ADRIAN — When asked for its endorsement for Phoenix Project, the Lenawee Now board of directors fell in line after the Adrian City Commission in passing a resolution that says that there just is not enough information to say yes or no to the project yet.
The wording of Lenawee Now’s May 11 resolution was almost identical to the one the Adrian City Commission passed May 9.
Also, this month, the Blissfield Village Council voted 7-0 against the project after supporting it 4-3 last fall and county commissioner Terry Collins, R-Adrian, said he does not support the project as currently presented.
Lenawee Now Executive Director Jim Van Doren said his board wants an independent audit to make sure the numbers are reflecting the realities for Lenawee County taxpayers. The county had asked for the organization’s endorsement of the project, which drove it to pass the resolution.
Van Doren and Lenawee Now Director of Operations Tim Robinson were present at a county commission meeting a couple of months ago seemingly voicing their support for the project.
“We gave an initial letter that if all of the factors prove out, that we think it would support economic development. That’s what we said,” Van Doren said. “They (the board) just think that there needs to be an independent study made because the company that's advising the board of commissioners is the company that manages these things and promotes these. So we think we should have an independent audit firm take a look at it to just verify the numbers.”
There are a number of factors that seem to have been overlooked in the analysis by Sports Facilities Companies of Clearwater, Florida, Van Doren said.
“They (Lenawee Now’s board) feel that they’re (SFC) overly optimistic when you take a look at it. They want to take a look at depreciation, they want to look at interest rates. They would like to see all of that and see how this project would really cash flow, especially when you’re talking about some $90 million,” Van Doren said. “That’s a huge, huge project for Lenawee County, and it’s a huge project for government to be taking on. I mean this is normally businesses that do this.”
Van Doren said the board felt that there were too many moving parts to the project and that there was a greater need for transparency.
“There’s too many questions. It’s changing all the time, you know, one minute they talk about dates that they’re going to have and then those dates change; they don’t seem to know a day they’re going to move forward with it. I’ve never seen so much indecision and changing and a lot of information coming out that wasn’t even presented to the board of commissioners as we see it,” Van Doren said. “We’re not saying that we don’t support Project Phoenix, we’re saying that we need an independent analysis. We just think that it takes an independent, objective analysis of the ability of the facility to be self-sustaining, and the last thing we want to do is have this be a burden on the taxpayers for 15 years down the road.”
The $88 million price tag is not a sticking point for the board if an independent analysis proves the complex can be self-sustaining.
“If they can substantially and objectively show that that can be managed and managed into the future, I'm sure our board of directors will take another look at it and issue another statement,” Van Doren said.
An organization that is supporting Project Phoenix is the Greater Lenawee Chamber of Commerce. The chamber recently issued a call to action for residents to contact their county commissioners and Adrian city commissioners to voice their support for the project.
The statement read in part:
"There are amazing things happening throughout our Lenawee Business community and it is important to recognize that each of our unique cities, towns, and villages play a role in the success of our overall area and the quality of life for each person from Downtown Adrian to Riga, Hudson, Clinton, and Onsted. This project and the potential from it, will not only benefit one specific area … unless we allow that to happen. The potential to tell the story of our Lenawee community to more people visiting our area is a huge growth opportunity for each business and each community. While the benefits will be far-reaching in our county, the benefits to each individual community will be up to us and how we as a Chamber, and a Community, take advantage of this great opportunity. The Chamber is committed to promoting our businesses and will be a leader in communicating opportunities and potential to our member businesses and communities."
This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Lenawee Now: Project Phoenix needs independent audit