The Ellis County Commission on Monday expressed support for a proposed privately funded indoor training facility for youth sports.
While state law prevents the county commission from granting a property tax abatement, commissioners spoke in favor of exploring other options to assist the local developers.
“I’m pleased to know you want to do something for the youth of Ellis County and want to keep people in Ellis County,” Commissioner Marcy McClelland said. “This is what our goal is, and so thank you for presenting this. And we’ll help wherever we can.”
The training complex — which also could be used for tournaments and competitive play — is organized by Hays residents Jeremy Schmeidler and Dustin Washburn, who also coach baseball at Thomas More-Prep Marian.
Justin Herl with RDH Construction is project manager for construction of the approximately 27,000-square-foot facility, which would be located 2 miles south of Hays on 240th Avenue. Nine acres of land have been donated, zoned and surveyed for the facility.
The training center would be open for public use — possibly through individual or team membership fees — and camps and lessons also would be offered. Ultimately, it’s all about the kids, Schmeidler said, noting the goal of the project is not to turn a profit.
“We want to present a win-win. We want everybody to win at this deal. We want the community to win. We want to win for our local contractors and local workers, and we want a win for the county,” he said. “This is not really a feasible business plan. I think somebody would have done it a long time ago if they thought they could make a living off youth sports. That’s not our goal.”
Developers presented a request Monday for a reduced property tax rate to help get the facility going in its early years. They proposed a flat annual payment of $6,150 per year for a 10-year period and a 1.5-percent compounded increase for another 10 years after that.
While the county cannot grant that request, commissioners have approximately $47,500 in funds earmarked for economic development purposes after cutting funding in this year’s budget for the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.
Commissioners said they will discuss using some of those funds to benefit the indoor training facility, which could draw many visitors to town for training and tournament opportunities, Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst said.
“We have that economic development money. I know all the traveling teams, and friends I know that travel across the state,” Haselhorst said. “They stay out of town Friday night, Saturday night and come home Sunday — and just the restaurants they eat in, the motels they stay at. … I think it’s a win-win just for Hays alone if we can start bringing these tournaments here.”
Haselhorst noted community enthusiasm for the project is strong, with many phone calls made to commissioners and a full house at Monday’s meeting as residents attended to show support.
The commission said it would discuss the issue at next week’s meeting and hope to have a proposal for the developers by early April.
Developers also said they believe the county’s valuation of the facility is too high, at approximately $1.05 million. Estimated annual property taxes are $24,600, accounting for 61 percent of estimated operating costs, Schmeidler said.
Commissioner Barbara Wasinger asked how much the facility would be insured for, and was told that amount would be approximately $700,000 to $1 million.
“The only reason I bring that up is to point out that what our appraiser came up with is not far outside the ballpark if that’s what you’d be insuring it for,” she said.
“We can’t give you a tax abatement, legally we can’t do it. What I would suggest is that we use some of our economic development funds. ... Very rarely do we have the opportunity where someone’s going to get something done like this in Ellis County, all paid for.”
Organizers estimated there are approximately 25 traveling baseball/softball teams in Hays that travel out of town to use indoor training facilities, as well as 30 traveling basketball teams and nine traveling soccer teams. There are also approximately 10 traveling volleyball teams based in Hays and a competitive cheerleading team — all totaling approximately 500 youth who would benefit from the facility. That’s not including area high school teams, who also could benefit.
The indoor complex will include a 120-by-120-foot field turf surface, regulation size high school basketball court, four batting cages, two bullpens, a weight training area, accessible restrooms, conference room and three offices. A second level will offer a viewing mezzanine.
Some Hays coaches already have a cooperative agreement with indoor training facilities in Inman and Great Bend, in which the teams participate in each other’s home tournaments, Schmeidler said.
“This is a unique situation. This is a privately funded project for the community,” he said. “We’ve been trying to be reasonable in this situation. We’re not asking for no taxes, just asking for a manageable, long-term plan where we can sustain this facility and have it there to benefit all the kids in our community. This is about the kids.”