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Missed deadline may snag $55 million POWERplex athletic complex in Chesterfield

A rendering of the $55 million POWERplex athletic facility in Chesterfield. Its developer, Dan Buck, touts it as the largest indoor athletic complex in North America.
Big Sports Properties LLC
A rendering of the POWERplex athletic facility in Chesterfield. Its developer, Dan Buck, touts it as the largest indoor athletic complex in North America.

The developer hoping to build in Chesterfield what’s touted as North America’s largest indoor sports facility wants more time to secure vital financial support from the region’s economic development group.

But the long-in-the-works deal for the $55 million POWERplex project, for which St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is an ambassador, may be in jeopardy, because developer Dan Buck didn’t meet a Thursday deadline for one of four requirements — a commitment from the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership to help pay for water and sewer lines. That’s why, according to documents obtained by St. Louis Public Radio and confirmed by Chesterfield officials, Buck plans to ask for an extension. The City Council will discuss the request Monday.

The proposed facility would sit on Chesterfield-owned land in the Missouri River floodplain along Interstate 64, just east of the Chesterfield Athletic Association. Buck, a former executive with the St. Patrick Center and SSM Health Care, wants to build two domed structures for baseball, softball, volleyball and basketball, plus six outdoor fields for baseball and softball. The site will also include a hotel, an office complex, an “education and health literacy center,” and shopping and dining options.

Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation is enthusiastic about the project, as is St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, who called it something that “will add a lot of revenue in tourism to the region, as well as that whole Valley area.”

Buck’s company, Big Sports Properties, LLC, has a 50-year lease with the city. But it will own the land that houses the hotels and restaurants, so the city will get taxes from those amenities. Buck estimates the project would generate nearly $6 million a year.

Buck canceled a scheduled interview this week with St. Louis Public Radio, citing “plenty of time to review and approve the progress report and the key milestones” he had submitted to the city council. He did not respond to further requests for comment.

The key part is having county buy-in, which is, according to the development agreement between Chesterfield and Buck, “preliminary written confirmation from St. Louis County regarding St. Louis County’s support of the development project” and an outline of “what binding financial or other support St. Louis County is willing” to provide.

A lot of that, Harder said last month, would be extensive water and sewer line work, which the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership could help pay for.

“On that side of the highway, there are no large water mains or sewer mains,” he said. “So, to put any kind of development on that side of the highway, they have to run the lines from the south side of Highway 40, which means you have to tunnel under Highway 40. So it’s a very expensive thing to get water and sewer over to that side. … Also, there’s the requirements that the government puts on those properties for water runoff. And so that has to be taken care of.”

Coming to terms

In a document dated May 30 and obtained through public records requests by St. Louis Public Radio, Buck gave Chesterfield officials letters that show he’s secured a total of about $40 million in financing, including loans from two banks and $16 million in tax-exempt bonds that would be issued by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Partnership officials support the project, but it needs the approval of the board, which is scheduled to meet June 13. CEO Sheila Sweeney has asked Nation and the Chesterfield City Council for more time to get that done.

Also, in what Buck calls a “progress report,” he asked Chesterfield officials for more time to get infrastructure funding from the economic development partnership. He said in the report that he “remains confident” that the partnership will come through.

“With $39,765,000 in secured funding sources identified, we trust the City Council will patiently wait a few more weeks to give the county time to complete their funding package,” Buck wrote.

Chesterfield’s Council will discuss the issue at its meeting Monday. POWERplex backers are being asked to attend to show their support.

There are also questions about whether Buck is meeting other requirements of the development agreement. For example, he had to secure $23 million in “binding, irrevocable philanthropic commitments.” But in a May 18 email exchange with Chesterfield officials obtained by St. Louis Public Radio, Buck said: “The fact is we NEVER planned to hit $23 million [in charitable contributions.]

“I even asked you many weeks ago if it was $23 million in TOTAL financing commitments and you said yes,” Buck wrote.

The progress report outlines the following philanthropic commitments: $6 million from billionaire Rex Sinquefield and his wife, Jeanne, whose names will be on the education center and $500,000from Cardinals Care. Monetary figures were not listed for other donors, including Major League Baseball, the owner of a local mortgage firm and “many more St. Louis- and Midwest-based companies involved in this important endeavor.”

In addition, Buck and his development partners agreed in 2016 to get letters of intent from a “reputable health care provider” that will lease 25 percent of the proposed office building, as well as a developer of the hotel. St. Louis Public Radio requested those documents three times, but was told the city did not have anything that matched the request.

Nation said Thursday that from what “we received from the Buck Innovation Group, it seems as though they’ve substantially achieved their milestones.”

“As I understand, we have the ability to terminate without granting an extension. We’ll have to see what happens on Monday to see if the Council is supportive of granting an extension,” Nation said. “They have gotten so much work done and got so far, it would be unfortunate not to allow a short extension to get the final approval for the much needed infrastructure.”

The wild card in this is the City Council. Since its members approved the project in January by a 4-3 vote, one of the ‘yes’ votes left office. The newly elected council members, Ben Keathly and Michelle Ohley, did not respond to requests for comment.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.