LEWISBURG — A split Greenbrier County Commission voted 2-1 Tuesday to proceed with site preparation work on its long-anticipated SportsPlex, accepting a reworked million-dollar bid from Kanawha Stone Inc. to grade the park land.

Kanawha Stone’s original bid for the project was just over $1.53 million, compared to local contractor Lynch Construction’s bid of more than $3.25 million. Kanawha Stone’s new winning bid of $1,060,000 does not include a storm drainage system that had been included in the first round of bidding.

Voicing strong objections to this additional investment in a project that has already cost the county nearly $1 million in property acquisition and site prep expenses, Commissioner Tammy Tincher said, “It’s not a financially responsible move for the county to take.”

While she said she could see the value of having a county park devoted to team sports, Tincher said this particular project has neither a building plan nor a realistic operating budget.

“It is not a responsibly planned project,” she said.

Tincher compared the Greenbrier project with a similar sports park in nearby Covington, Va. While Greenbrier commissioners have floated a “guesstimate” of $200,000 in annual operating expenses once the SportsPlex is fully functional, the Covington ballpark’s annual operating budget is $500,000, Tincher said.

“I question why we are trying to reinvent the wheel,” she said, pointing out that the popular Covington ballpark is only 30 miles away from the SportsPlex site.

The Greenbrier project is inching forward on a pay-as-you-go basis, using the county’s Arts and Recreation Fund, which is fueled by bed tax revenue. Tincher said the county’s average annual Arts and Recreation revenue over the past four years has been $613,000 and that there is currently $1.9 million in the fund.

Commissioner Mike McClung, the guiding force behind the SportsPlex project from the outset, acknowledged that Tincher had raised “legitimate financial concerns.”

In fact, he said, when the land deal for the park was consummated, it was understood that the current level of funding was insufficient. Doubling the bed tax from the present three percent to the maximum allowable level of six percent is the solution to that problem, he said.

But “pressures from other folks” means the bed tax increase isn’t likely to happen, McClung said. “Current funding won’t build the (SportsPlex),” he added.

McClung’s remarks were a clear reference to W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice, whose family owns The Greenbrier resort — the primary source of the county’s bed tax collections. Justice met privately with commissioners last year and reportedly expressed opposition to talk of a bed tax hike.

Commission President Lowell Rose, who voted with McClung Tuesday in favor of proceeding with the grading of the park land, conceded that more work on devising an overall plan for the SportsPlex and securing outside funding for the project needs to be done.

But he noted that there was plenty of public support for the project when the SportsPlex was first proposed more than two years ago. The clamor for recreational facilities in the county began even longer ago than that, he said, citing a survey of residents taken more than a decade ago.

“I’m still committed to the project,” Rose said.

— Email: talvey@register-herald.com

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