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Serious problems lie in mayor’s plan

Letter to the Editor • Dec 15, 2015 at 2:10 PM

Mayor Philip Craighead, for the third year in a row, has made wildly reckless and unsupportable claims seeking to advance his arena proposal, which the Lebanon City Council will again vote on Jan. 21. Although removed from the council agenda on Jan. 7, Craighead had planned the first vote on his proposed sales tax referendum (again already), yet he has failed to publicly disclose his intent for such potential proceeds as it relates to his proposed arena/ boulevard savings account. 

 A key underpinning of Craighead’s arena proposal is that the two landowners of the subject landlocked 133-acre tract would donate 20 acres within that tract for an arena site, if and when an about $70 million arena (with financing) were actually ever a financial possibility. It’s unassailable that’s an impossibility via 

Craighead’s touted arena funding plan, whereby he falsely claims the local taxpayers would not be at risk of both backstopping the bonds and also subsidizing the certain annual operating deficits.    

At the Jan. 7 council meeting, Craighead said he has no memorandum of understanding delineating the legal parameters between the city and the two landowners for that land donation. 

Obviously, one reason being that those landowners’ total 133-acre tract is collateral on their large real estate loans, which are also public record. Also, that 20 acres bought for $3,800 an acre in 2001, has been hyped by Craighead as being potentially worth $5 million to $15 million in the future (after a taxpayer-funded boulevard unlocked the value of the 133-acre tract).

 In 2011, Craighead first declared his arena funding plan would be a public-private partnership with co-landowner J.D. Eatherly’s coming 1 million square-foot shopping center on both the 133-acre tract and Eatherly’s/Bobby Capers’ adjacent 33-acre tract (Logan’s) called the Cumberland

Center. Craighead’s plan is that percentages of the sales and property taxes from newly constructed businesses within that acreage (most of the Entertainment District), would be placed in an arena savings account. But far before potentially funding an arena, that account could be used to fund a boulevard through part of the Eatherly/Capers’ 133-acre tract (unlocking the potential value).

 Where is any significant beginning of phase one of the shopping center after three years? Where is the legal obligation that Eatherly must build the shopping center to thereby provide the tax funds for an arena to possibly materialize and thereby meet Eatherly’s terms (per Craighead) for the city to receive the 20-acre donation? If an arena might not materialize for 8-10 years as Craighead has often said, and Eatherly and Capers are near age 80, where is the legal obligation that the city would get the 20 acres after their potential passing?

Without the phase one for the shopping center, where is the arena savings account going to come from for the funding of the boulevard into the tract from Legends Drive to Cainsville Road? Is the answer found in Craighead’s latest attempt to rush and ram a proposal through council, his proposed April sales tax referendum? (A legal opinion from the state on the strategically worded hook in referendum was the reason for removal from the council’s Jan. 7 agenda).

Rather than having a sales tax referendum for the arena savings account with which to potentially demonstrate Craighead’s key arena justification claim that the public overwhelmingly supports his arena plans, and which, if passed, could make an arena a possibility, Craighead obviously slickly seeks a sales tax referendum, whereby, if passed, he could seek to use tax proceeds for the boulevard and arena savings account. Thereby, it could happen without a direct vote by the community on such funding, and without a feasibility study to substantiate his reckless claims in pursuit of his masked agendas.

A local taxpayer partially funded boulevard through the 133-acre tract would be beneficial for both the community and the landowners, but Craighead’s deceptive fairy tales in such pursuit are outrageous. Craighead has said the landowners would split the cost of the boulevard with the city (via the arena savings account). Again, they are near 80, and the arena savings account is not materializing from a non-existent phase one of a shopping center in the 33-acre tract (that contains Logan’s). What does “split” the cost mean precisely, and what constitutes payment? Again, there is no legal obligation of the landowners via a memorandum of understanding. So why is the council even voting on this proposal?

Craighead’s arena justifications can all be summed up as feel-good happy talk. He has refused to have an independent feasibility study done in seeking to justify an arena and to validate his (wacky) claims, obviously because it would indisputably render his proposal null and void (and thereby is unnecessary). He has refused to draft the legal parameters to make a feasibility study mandatory for his proposed Economic Development Board. Yet, he said the board could decide whether a study is necessary.

 That’s dishonest. If the Economic Development Board and the arena savings account and the legal parameters thereof were passed by a majority of the council, then the arena tiger is out of the cage...as the mission of the Economic Development Board is set in stone then. That would be to use the savings account to help fund the boulevard through the landowner’s acres and to indefinitely save for the construction of an arena. An arena, whereby the core anchor revenues in Craighead’s plan would be derived from 33 annual home matches of a double minor league hockey franchise. According to the mayor’s numbers, that would significantly lead to arena profitability in a short span. There is not a league team competitor within 400 miles in the struggling league.  

Derek Dodson


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