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Clark complex proposal is bigger

Last week's announcement about a proposed sports-and-entertainment complex for Vandalia, Ill., does not affect Kenneth Bardwell's plans to put a similar but larger center in Winchester, the Michigan developer and Clark County officials said.

"We're still on schedule, still on target," Bardwell said in an interview. "We're planning to meet with (Winchester) officials in the early part of June."

Meanwhile, Bardwell said, plans for the Winchester complex have expanded to include a 27,000-seat arena, making it larger than Rupp Arena's seating capacity of 23,000. That's up from the 14,000-seat arena that Bardwell's company, Motown Technology & Sports Facility Inc. of West Bloomfield, Mich., had announced in January.

"We're looking to bring major league indoor soccer and various sporting events" plus concerts, Bardwell said.

The $377 million price tag for the proposed complex in Winchester — up from $300 million announced in January — also would include an IMAX movie theater; a surf wave pool; a fitness area; a day-care center; a food court; two hotels with 800 rooms; and places to play baseball, soccer, basketball and tennis.

Bardwell met last week with Illinois officials to discuss a similar $300 million complex for Vandalia, a farming community of fewer than 7,000 people about an hour east of St. Louis.

Plans for the Vandalia facility include a 9,000-seat arena; restaurants; a surf wave pool; a day care; a fitness area; places for tennis, hockey, basketball and soccer; an IMAX theater; an arcade; and a 300-room hotel, the St. Louis Business Journal reported.

Scott Bunyard, an insurance agent and Realtor in Vandalia, said he is surprised that a developer would want to put a complex of that size in a farming community.

"It sounds like a pipe dream to me," Bunyard said. "There are 20,000 some-odd people in the whole county. ... It'd be like taking the Kentucky Exposition Center out of Louisville and setting it down here."

Bardwell had previously said that he planned to put several of these complexes around the country, and he said that is still his intention. He said the complexes will not only draw Winchester and Vandalia's residents but the population in the regions surrounding those communities.

"We're creating destination and tourism-type attractions," Bardwell said.

"There's going to be negativism all the way until this thing is built. So we're used to it," he said. "We're going to try to put our best foot forward to make it happen. If it happens, then all the naysayers will certainly be there, probably front row, saying, 'congratulations.'"

Bardwell hopes to secure a mix of state and local incentives. One of those includes applying for a tax credit from the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet to enable an independent consultant to conduct a feasibility study.

The Cabinet "has not received a completed application for the project," spokesman Gil Lawson said Thursday.

Todd Denham, executive director of the Winchester-Clark County Industrial Development Authority, said Motown Technology can't submit a full application to the state "until they have a funding agreement in place."

"It does sound like they are getting closer to that arrangement," Denham said.

Asked if he has lined up financing for the Winchester project, Bardwell said, "Yes, we have. ... Actually, we're planning to demonstrate that in a few weeks."

He would not identify the investors, but he said they will be made public in the future. "They have indicated that they will do a joint press release with us," he said.

Motown Technology had previously presented plans for similar sports-and-entertainment complexes to three towns in Michigan, but none came to fruition. Bardwell has said that other cities he approached could not provide the financial incentives his company needed. But town officials in Michigan said they backed out of talks with Bardwell because he could not prove that he had funding for his project.

Clark County officials have said they are not concerned about the issues encountered by the towns in Michigan 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, Motown Technology must obtain "a sufficient financing commitment providing funds for acquisition, construction and operation" of the complex by July 1, according to the development agreement among Motown Technology, Winchester, Clark County and the Winchester-Clark County Industrial Development Authority.

The agreement can be terminated if the money for the project is not secured.

Bardwell said skepticism will not deter his plans.

"Any time someone tries to dare to do something of this magnitude in this economy that we live in, where jobs are desperately needed and financing is very difficult, people are going to be skeptical," Bardwell said. "We've had to overcome a lot of skepticism. If you aim for the moon, you land among the stars. We're trying to do this with the help of the municipalities and the incentives that have been offered and try to come up with good financing packages to make this a reality."

He said, "There are only two people in this world. Those who think 'What happened?,' and those who make things happen. And I try to be the latter. How can you fault a guy or an entrepreneur who is trying to create jobs and try to bring something to this economy?"

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