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Developers talk to Winchester businessmen (Published Feb. 27, 2009)

Representatives from a Michigan development company that has proposed a $300 million sports and entertainment complex in Winchester met Thursday with an invitation-only crowd of business and community leaders from Clark County.

The gathering was an opportunity for those who have not been directly involved with the proposal to learn about it, said Todd Denham, executive director of the Winchester-Clark County Industrial Authority.

Denham said developers from Motown Technology and Sports Facility Inc. provided an outline of their proposal, but they did not present any new details. Developers also did not disclose how they will receive funding for the project; Denham said they were told the developers are working diligently with a group to get financing from a group of investors, whom they did not name.

In January, Clark County officials announced the proposed 2 million-square-foot facility — a vision created by Kenneth Bardwell, the CEO and chairman of Motown Technology.

Bardwell has said Winchester is contending with Illinois, Georgia, New York, California and Arizona to receive the project. The developer has said he hopes to settle on a location by April.

The proposal Bardwell submitted to Winchester and Clark County government, obtained by the Herald-Leader through an open records request, gives the most detailed account of what would be housed at the complex. But the 31-page proposal never names a financial backer for the project.

Bardwell had previously said the proposed complex would include a 14,000-seat arena, a surf park and an IMAX theater.

According to the project's proposal, Motown Technology also intends to include a dance studio, bank office, day care center, retail spaces, a 1,000-seat food court and other amenities in the complex, which would be located on a 177-acre plot of land off Interstate 64 and the Mountain Parkway. Future phases of the project could also include two Little League baseball diamonds and a second IMAX screen, according to the proposal.

Bardwell did not return calls for comment.

Motown Technology had previously presented a similar complex plan to three towns in Michigan, but the project has yet to come to fruition. Bardwell has said that the other cities he approached could not provide the financial incentives his company needed to start the complex. But town officials in Michigan have said that they backed out of talks with Bardwell and Motown Technology because the developer could not prove he had funding for his project and could not provide details about the sports and entertainment facility.

Clark County officials have said they are not concerned about the issues encountered by the towns in Michigan, in part, because they have not taken any financial risk.

In January, the Winchester City Commission and Clark County Fiscal Court approved an agreement that would offer as much as $37 million in tax increment financing over a 20-year period. Tax increment financing allows state and local governments to fund public improvement projects and pay them back with the increased tax revenues that the development generates.

But before construction can begin on the project, Motown Technology must "obtain a sufficient financing commitment providing funds for acquisition, construction and operation" of the complex by July 1, according to a development agreement between Motown Technology, Winchester, Clark County and the city of Winchester-Clark County Industrial Development Authority. The agreement, which officials signed in January, can be terminated if the money for the project is not secured.

City and county leaders will also request improvements to I-64 and the Mountain Parkway to accommodate anticipated traffic if Motown Technology decides to build in Winchester, according to the development agreement.

But Motown Technology would be responsible for paying for all costs of the construction and operation of the project, the agreement states.

The agreement also says the developer must submit a detailed concept plan with proposed uses, building sizes and designs for the project before construction can begin.

The Motown Technology proposal contains descriptions for 19 different areas of the complex. The proposal summarizes how each area will be used, identifying the amount of seating planned and listing the materials needed. But many of the summaries do not specify how many square feet each section will be.

Denham said the plans are intentionally somewhat "fluid."

"This project could possibly change as we continue on, because we're trying to find the right mix of usage that would go into the complex," he said.