By Richard Sullins |

The Lee County Multi-Sports Complex took another significant step forward on Monday night as the county Board of Commissioners selected the firm that will design the look and layout of the project.

From a field of six applicants, the commissioners chose the McAdams firm from Durham, a civil engineering, land planning, landscape architecture and geomatics company that also has offices in Raleigh and Charlotte.

Founded in 1979, the firm has extensive experience in creating parks, recreational spaces, and greenways. Among their successful projects nearby are Finley Fields North and Hooker Fields at UNC Chapel Hill, the Duke University Softball Complex, and the SanLee Park Nature Education Center in Sanford.

The property for the sports complex is located near the intersection of the U.S. 421 bypass and N.C. 42, known locally as Broadway Road. The tract of land is comprised of 119.82 acres and was authorized in November 2020, when 58.59 percent of Lee County voters approved a bond referendum for the project.

The commissioners purchased the land in August in a payment of $1,914,000 for the Myrtle Matthews Poe property that was combined with a donated tract of land from the Stewart family through Wesara Associates LLC. That action also provided payment for the $102,110 in due diligence work done by McAdams in the spring and summer of last year.

Land development can be a risky business. The larger the tract, the greater the potential risk and this type of research into the property is routinely performed to determine the viability and feasibility of developing a property for its intended use.

The site will have space for at least 10 multi-purpose fields and five baseball fields, all full-sized. The land lies within the Sanford city limits and no rezoning will be necessary, since the proposed uses are already permitted within the existing zoning districts. Water and sewer lines are readily available, although sewer capacity might need to be upgraded depending on the timing of the development.

Access to the property will be from Broadway Road instead of directly from the 421 bypass. Broadway Road is set for a widening project in the coming months by the state Department of Transportation and McAdams recommended early coordination with the county to avoid any potential conflicts that could lead to construction delays.

The next step in the process is what McAdams calls “listening and envisioning,” which it anticipates will take up to four months. The design itself is expected to take about six months, followed by permitting and executing of construction of documents. If there are no major hitches, construction on the facility could begin as early spring of 2023.

Jimmy Randolph, CEO of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, spoke to the Commissioners on the importance of the complex to the region’s growing economy.

“As the demand for our labor force has continued to grow, it’s world-class amenities like this that will help our community to continue to grow even more,” he said. “As more and more high-quality residential options become available in Lee County, it may be that amenities like the multi-sports complex determine whether a new generation of citizens decides to become tax paying citizens or live somewhere else.”

McAdams’ proposal to the county had one other interesting finding. In order to compete for the hosting of regional and national tournaments, a minimum of 2,000 hotel rooms are required to be available. At present, Sanford has only 585 rooms – and that’s going to be an issue for community leaders.

PARTF grant received for Kiwanis Children’s Park

The county has been awarded a $209,000 grant from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to complete Phase II of the site-specific master plan created in 2018 for the Kiwanis Children’s Park.

Phase II includes a nature themed play area for children ages 2 through 5, a restroom and shelter plaza, and ADA-compatible sidewalks with trail head and site furnishings. Phase I of the renovations to the park opened back up to the public last fall.

The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund receives dollars from the state legislature in each year’s annual budget. By statute, 30 percent of allocations must be used for local government projects and matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis. The county’s share for completing the project is $370,915.

Another project approved during the meeting was the expenditure of $240,000 to install air conditioning and do other improvements at the Bob Hales Recreation Center on McIver Street. Funding for the project will come from an $80,000 State Capital and Infrastructure Direct Grant and another $160,000 from the county’s general fund.

Strategic plan approved but not without disagreement

For only the third time in their history, the commissioners approved a strategic plan for the county that sets goals and objectives in six areas where their focus will be during the coming process of developing the budget: arts and culture; community safety; health and well-being; partnerships; education; and economic development.

Republican Commissioner Bill Carver sparked controversy during the board’s workshop to review the plan on January 27 when he proposed adding an objective to the partnerships sector that would create dialogue on how races relate to one another.

“I know that it can create anxiety talking about issues like this,” he said, “but it can also create mutual relationship development amongst all ethnic and racial groups.”

The draft of Carver’s proposed new objective, according to documents contained within the commissioners’ meeting packets, was to “promote dialogue with community leaders to foster better relationships and trust among all ethnic and racial groups in Lee County and collect and review appropriate data to facilitate discussion that will improve the quality of life for all citizens.”

Carver’s suggestion came after Sanford’s Equity Task Force reported to the county board on January 24 on perceived inequities in socio-economic factors between racial and ethnic groups living in the city and beyond.

As the commissioners met at their workshop three days later, the voices heard during the battle over redistricting last fall were still ringing in Carver’s ears.

“When we did redistricting last fall, we had a huge response from the African-American community that suggested we had lost their confidence. On Monday, they came to us and appealed that we take some action on the issue of relationships,” he said.

Democratic Commissioner Robert Reives questioned the idea of what data was going to be collected and what was going to be done with it. Carver responded that nothing had been decided but that there were several models on how it could be used, including one from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. But in the absence of a purpose for collecting data, Carver’s motion failed, although the revised plan itself passed.

New building approved for CCEP

Following a public hearing, the commissioners approved an amendment to a memorandum of understanding with a private equity firm Lee Growth for the construction of a new 117,000 square-foot shell building at Central Carolina Enterprise Park as a potential site for an industrial client.

The county has entered similar lease arrangements with other buildings at CCEP and has never had to pay any rent because the buildings have been sold to industrial clients quickly. Speaking to the board, Randolph said this has been a successful public private partnership between Lee County, Sanford, SAGA, and the private investor group. Three buildings have already been constructed and sold that have brought several hundred million dollars in tax base expansion.

“It gives the public-private partnership a product to show,” said Randolph, who added that discussions are taking place now between two companies who have each expressed interest in the building.

Approval of the amendment will allow construction to begin, something that has given Lee County an edge in recruiting clients in the past.

“Having a building that is completed and ready to occupy gives companies a speed-to-market savings of about 18 months, and that can translate into millions of dollars in cost savings. That’s a real a drawing card when it comes to recruiting clients,” he said.

The Sanford City Council gave its approval to the MOU amendment on January 18.

Delinquent taxes to be published

If you haven’t paid your city or county property taxes for 2021 yet, you can be looking for your name and the amount you owe to be published soon. As required by state law, the commissioners authorized County Tax Administrator Michael Brown to advertise no sooner than March 1 a listing of all delinquent 2021 unpaid real property taxes.

The total amount of unpaid property taxes as of January 26, 2022, was reported to be $2,102,790.27, which Brown said was about the same as in previous years.