Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Partner withdraws from tennis center project

Tennis center at South Germantown park was in the works for seven years

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
The partner has pulled out of a project that would have brought a tennis center and spa to this site in the South Germantown Recreational Park, which remains vacant and un-mowed.
The leaseholder of six acres at the South Germantown Recreational Park has pulled out of a project that would have brought a $22 million tennis center and spa to the site.

‘‘We have received a letter from Kevin Tighe, who is the partner, saying that he has exhausted all his attempts to find private investors in the project,” said Bill Mooney, acting deputy director of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Tighe, a Washington, D.C., attorney who operates the McLean Racquet & Health Club in Northern Virginia, did not return calls and e-mails this week for comment.

Tighe’s lease, which began in September 2000, dictated an annual land cost of $75,000 at the South Germantown park.

Mooney said the changing real estate market and a lack of investors influenced Tighe’s decision to pull out of the project.

‘‘This project has actually survived the downturns of the sniper, 9⁄11,” Mooney said. ‘‘Now it’s as much as anything the real estate situation. ...That’s one of the things about the private sector, they are responsive to the market.”

The lease termination leaves an un-mowed hill in the middle of the well-maintained fields of the Maryland SoccerPlex, and next door to the popular Germantown Indoor Swim Center, which has been open for 18 months.

County Councilman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said Tuesday that a temporary use, such as a bike or skate park, should be explored.

The Germantown Athletic Club and Spa was to include four outdoor tennis courts, three indoor tennis courts, four racquet ball courts, four international squash courts, four basketball courts, cardiovascular equipment, aerobics facilities, a massage center and spa, an indoor track, a basketball and volleyball court, a restaurant, a hot and cold whirlpool and a children’s play area.

Since 2000, Tighe repeatedly told the County Council and planners he was close to securing funding. In the last public discussion, Tighe told the County Council in early December 2005 that pending construction permits, he anticipated ‘‘putting a shovel in the ground within six to seven months.”

The council approved an amended lease for the project on Dec. 13, 2005. Those amendments were expected to help Tighe finalize his funding.

Knapp said the County Council is exploring public-private partnerships and their potential costs to the county in the long-term.

‘‘You run into a situation where it drags on,” Knapp said. ‘‘You’re willing to kind of hang on longer than you probably should because there will be an added benefit that the county couldn’t provide.”

However, there should be milestones that private partners meet while participating in such a project.

‘‘I don’t think any project should drag on for seven years,” Knapp said. ‘‘But, there has been no one else who came forward with a different alternative for that site.”

County planners must now reassess the site.

‘‘We will return to our park, planning and development staff and see what they think should happen on that spot,” Mooney said Monday. ‘‘We’ll look at the possibility of doing our own indoor tennis facility, which would be significantly smaller than the facility [Tighe] had proposed. We’ll also go before our partnership committee to have a discussion to see if we want to see another partner for this facility.”

Mooney said public forums would also be convened to gather input from residents.

‘‘I think it actually has much more of an impact on the Germantown community than it does us,” said Trish Heffelfinger, executive director of the Maryland Soccer Foundation, which operates the SoccerPlex. ‘‘It certainly has an impact on the park. It’s more of a loss to Montgomery County and to the citizens of Germantown.”

Heffelfinger said she would like to see another high-use facility, such as tennis, an ice rink or a health center, on the site.

Tighe has owned and operated the McLean Racquet and Health Club in Northern Virginia for about 32 years.

The cost of the project soared from an estimated $12 million when the project was announced in 2000, to an estimated $22 million. The project’s scope also changed –– from an 80,000-square-foot building with a focus on tennis — to an 110,000-square-foot building.

County officials originally hoped that the center would begin operating at the same time as the Germantown Indoor Swim Center, which opened at the park in January 2006.

The tennis center timeline

It has been more than six years since the county and developer Kevin P. Tighe of Germantown Recreational Park Racquet & Fitness Center LLC signed a lease for the six acres at the South Germantown Recreational Park. Here’s the timeline on the project, which Tighe pulled out of recently.

September 2000: The county and Tighe sign a 40-year lease for the $12 million center.

February 2002: Tighe tells The Gazette that the area is ripe for this kind of business. A park and planning official tells The Gazette that Tighe has until May to secure funds and had already received two funding extensions.

February 2003: The lease is amended to give Tighe an 18-month fundraising extension to raise money for the project.

October 2003: Tighe tells The Gazette that the project will be fully funded in two months.

February 2004: Tighe says he has secured 80 percent of the financing needed for the now $18 million project. He says construction will begin in the summer and the center will open in September 2005.

August 2004 to September 2004: The 18-month fundraising extension passes. No new extension is given.

December 2005: Tighe is ‘‘close to finalizing financial plans” according to a letter from Park and Planning to the County Council. Tighe tells the County Council that he anticipates ‘‘putting a shovel in the ground within six to seven months.” The size and cost for the center has increased to $22 million.

September 2006: Park and Planning officials say Tighe is ‘‘working on final funding.”

May 2007: Tighe tells the county he is terminating the lease.