The Runback: I Was Promised A Tennis Center, Not Kings Dominion

An Anne Arundel County Tennis Center has exploded into a sports complex to be developed at taxpayer expense

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The Monday Thought

Over a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote about a completely unnecessary tennis center planned for Anne Arundel County. This plan had been on the books for a while and some people were publicly clamoring about the “need” for a tennis center.

I wrote at the time:

The problem is why a tennis center was even on the drawing board for Anne Arundel Rec and Parks to start with? What inherently government function exists that calls for the county to run a tennis center? How are people who aren’t tennis players helped by this?

Well, almost prophetically, the project exploded into “tennis and sports center” to be built across the street from Millersville Elementary according to the agreement of lease signed between the County and a private vendor back in June.

The County signed a lease with Coppermine, a private vendor that operates a number of sports and athletics facilities across the Baltimore region.

No I have no issue with Coppermine here; they are just trying to do right by their company. I don’t even necessarily oppose the construction of such a sports complex in the county.

But I do have a problem with Anne Arundel County getting in the business of building sports complexes for commercial use.

The county is basically leasing this land to Coppermine for a period of fifty years. The kicker? The rental cost over the course of the fifty year agreement is only $145,920 a year. That’s it. Over the course of the entirety of the lease, the County will recoup what amounts to a drop in the bucket.

Meanwhile, the complex is being subsidized by the County to the tune of around $7 million dollars. The County intends to construct infrastructure, outdoor courts, and all exterior site features within the appropriated budget for this project. And of course the county will be taking on the cost of debt service to pay for the $7 million in bonds that will be issued to fund their portion of the project.

So Coppermine is getting what amounts to a sweetheart deal that does even take into account fifty-years of future inflation while the County spends $7 million that could be allocated to other parks to build exterior infrastructure for a private entity. What are we doing here exactly?

Some of the key points that seem to have gone unnoticed by everybody who is pushing this project: Private indoor tennis venues in the area have all failed and switched to other uses. Though this project has expanded beyond that scope, it is hardly a ringing endorsement of county priorities that the county believes that taxpayers should be funding this type of endeavor when the private sector has already failed.

Of course, what happens if Coppermine’s involvement fails? What if they lose money? What if they go out of business? Then what? Then the county is stuck with an unused albatross that it will either need to maintain or administer at even greater taxpayer expense.

So to recap, a private vendor is being awarded a sweetheart deal while taxpayers are on the hook for multi-million investment that predominantly benefits upper-class white Republican suburbanites.

Even if this money were allocated for Parks and Rec, how is this a good use of instead of maintaining existing public parks or expanding park access across the county?

Next Monday, October 4th, the County Council will vote on Bill 73-21. The Council has to approve the lease and this bill, introduced on behalf of Wealthy Horseman Steuart Pittman’s administration, would do. All it takes is four votes of the County Council to kill this nonsense project. It’s a right that the Council should avail themselves of.