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Monday, July 1,2013

The future of Hope

Possible transfer of soccer complex lease from public to private hands has some crying foul over the process. Others say it will be an economic boon for the city.

by Sam Inglot

This story was corrected on July 1. Because of a reporting error, the story said that Kevin Mullin is the owner of Mid-Michigan Sports Turf LLC. His wife, Julie Mullin, said she is the owner. Julie Mullin is listed as the resident agent of the LLC.

This story was updated on June 19 to say that Deb Nolan, chairwoman of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, sent a letter to Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero on Tuesday expressing the county's desire to extend the county's lease of the Kenneth A. Hope Soccer Complex through the end of 2013 and through 2014.'

After 15 years as a city-owned, publicly operated facility, the Kenneth A. Hope Soccer Complex in southeast Lansing will likely fall under the control of a private company in late July.

The owner of the future anchor tenant and economic development officials say transferring the lease from Ingham County to private hands will allow for major investments in the site, contributing to economic growth by more soccer events coming here. But some county officials and those working closely with the complex believe handing over the lease to a private vendor wasn’t handled properly and will limit access to the complex. The city of Lansing owns the property, which is near the intersection of Aurelius and Miller roads, but the complex has always been operated by Ingham County through a lease agreement. The chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners hopes to keep the lease at least into 2014.

Last Monday, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero sent a letter to the Ingham County Controller’s Office saying that the city would not be renewing its lease with the county. The county has leased the space for 15 years at $1 per year. The lease expires July 27.'

The city plans to offer the lease to Mid-Michigan Sports Turf LCC. Julie Mullin said she owns the company and is listed as the company's resident agent. Julie Mullin and her husband, Kevin Mullin, own Michigan Chill SBS Soccer Club, an East Lansing-based, private soccer club that hosts youth and young adult teams. Kevin Mullin said his club team would be the “anchor tenant” at the site.'

However, there could be a stumbling block to Bernero’s plan, as a 2008 Lansing city attorney’s opinion states that any lease of real property for five or more years requires City Council approval. Council President Carol Wood first heard of the plan on Monday night and was not prepared to comment for this story.

Bernero said in an interview that his administration was under the impression that the county was not planning on renewing its lease with the city, which is why the city rushed to find someone to lease it.'

“It’s been in the works only very recently. (Ingham County’s) parks director talked to our parks director and said they weren’t going to be extending the lease after July,” he said. “That came as a shock to us, and we felt we had to move quickly.”

However, Ingham County officials hadn’t made a final decision on not renewing the lease by the time it heard Bernero wasn’t going to renew. In a letter to the mayor on Thursday, Deb Nolan, chairwoman of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, said “preliminary discussions” had taken place about the future of the county’s lease and that “neither the Parks Commission nor the Board of Commissioners have ever recommended not renewing the lease.”'

She said in the letter that the 2013 county parks budget has funds in it to operate the soccer complex through the end of the year and the county “fully intended” to extend the lease possibly into 2014 “and into the future in cooperation with the City of Lansing.”'

On Tuesday, Nolan sent another letter to Bernero stating the county wishes to extend the lease of the complex through 2013. She also wrote that the county wants to operate the complex through 2014 and beyond.'

"This extension will give the County time to plan for the continued public operation of the Hope Soccer Complex during its 2014 budget process as well as to plan for subsequent years," she wrote.'

Kevin Mullin said he contacted every group that uses the complex and told them that user rates would be increasing, but that he would honor the existing 2013 soccer schedules that are already in place. Others still feel left in the dark.

“I don’t trust what we’re being told right now because the Soccer Advisory Board wasn’t brought into the conversation or given any information until after the decision was made,” said Todd Derby, who is on the advisory board and is the owner of TNT Dynamite Soccer — one of the biggest club users of the complex.'

The Soccer Advisory Board helps oversee operations of the field and represents the approximately 5,000 players who use the field through leagues.'

Derby believes Kevin Mullin’s team will have first priority for field usage, which could push some clubs out of the complex. He also isn’t sure whether the other smaller clubs can afford the hiked rates.'

Stacie Macias, chairwoman of the Lansing Area Women’s Soccer league, said the rate hikes are a concern for her nonprofit organization.

“Because we’re a nonprofit, we’re a little concerned about” increased rates, she said. “The only funds we have are from the players who pay to play. We do not have a lot of financial flexibility. The members pay as much as we need them to pay, so we don’t want any hardships on our members.”

Ingham County Commissioner Kara Hope, like Derby, is concerned about taking a public complex and handing over control to a private owner. Hope’s husband, Delhi Township Clerk Evan Hope, is the nephew of Ken Hope, after whom the complex is named.'

“I don’t play soccer. My kids don’t play. But I believe pretty strongly in public recreation opportunities,” Hope said. “But I’m not sure those opportunities are going to be afforded by the city’s new deal with the owner of Michigan Chill.”

Addressing the concerns about forcing out some clubs, Mullin said he would work with the other clubs to ensure that there would be “fair and equitable scheduling rights.” He also said the success of the complex would depend on it being used by other clubs, not just his.'

“I’ve told them I need their support financially,” he said. “I’m relying on them to continue to rent space from the facility to run this program and make it work.”'

Mullin said he plans on making an initial investment of $1.2 million to upgrade the complex to include an artificial turf field that will create a regional draw for soccer tournaments.'

“The big picture is the massive economic development,” he said. “I’m talking tens of millions of dollars. If we can help facilitate Lansing as a sports destination, the numbers are staggering.”

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