SRA asks town to stretch payments to 10 years

Published 6:54 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Original plan was to sell Beale Park and give proceeds to town

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Smithfield Recreation Association is looking to change the terms of its lease with the Town of Smithfield concerning its $300,000 contribution to the Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex. 

Smithfield Town Council member Denise Tynes said the subject came up during a Council closed session — a topic she did not view as a closed session issue as it was characterized as a loan from the town to a private organization.

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Smithfield Recreation Association President Chris Kennedy said he wouldn’t call it a loan, rather the organization wants to stretch out the obligation over 10 years in payments of $30,000 a year.  

Mayor Carter Williams had another opinion about it being characterized as a loan, “I would imagine it would,” and added that it will be discussed openly at the next Parks and Recreation Committee meeting later this month. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

This is not the first time the town has considered making a loan to a private organization.

The lease with the Town of Smithfield calls for SRA to sell its Beale Park facility and donate the proceeds to the town for the sports complex. 

SRA is also to pay $25,000 a year in rent payments to use the facility and in return, has first dibs on the use of the $4 million facility. 

At a recent public meeting on the possible sale of Beale Park, it was decided that a group would form to raise the $300,000 separately and not sell the facility. 

Kennedy said SRA fears coming short of the $300,000 by the January 2020 deadline. 

Reasons for the change from selling to keeping Beale Park ranged from sentimental attachment to the 50-year-old facility to still needing the extra fields to concerns about what would replace the ball fields if it were sold, such as houses or apartments.

Beale Park is located in the residential Moonefield area of Smithfield. Living near Beale Park are Williams and Smithfield Town Council member Wayne Hall. 

The plan to sell Beale Park to assist in the financing for new ballfields is not new. It has been discussed publicly since 2013. 

Williams was one of the front men touting the idea of selling Beale Park, but now has second thoughts.

Why get rid of three good ballfields, he said. 

Williams said he’s always liked Beale Park.

“The crack of the bat, the lights shining, the kids yelling,” he said of ball games at the facility. 

“I hate to see it go,” he said, but added that he was disturbed as to why those associated with Smithfield Recreation waited five years to decide against selling the facility. 

Williams isn’t concerned about townhouses being built on the property as it would require a rezoning and that wouldn’t pass. 

There is also a rumor that Smithfield entrepreneur Vincent Corolla is interested in buying Beale Park but he said that is not the case. Corolla said he was approached about it early in the process, but has since moved on and is not interested. 

Meanwhile, Smithfield Treasurer Ellen Minga reported in August the contributions provided to cover the cost of the sports complex were nearly depleted and any more expenditures would have to be covered by the town. 

To build the sports complex, Smithfield Foods contributed $1 million, former Smithfield Foods President and CEO Joseph W. Luter III contributed $2 million, Isle of Wight County pledged $250,000, Farmers Bank gave $175,000 and the town of Smithfield purchased the land for $775,000. 

Williams said the project isn’t short on cash, but doesn’t know how much is available to finish two final projects — the turn lane required by VDOT and the sewer lines. 

“We’re good. We’re in real good shape,” he said. 

This is not the first loan, or lease payment schedule, considered by the Town Council with a private organization. 

In early 2017, Smithfield VA Events President Randy Pack (also on the Smithfield Town Council) proposed the town finance a nearly half million-dollar loan with a term of 15 to 20 years to build two barns and renovate the interior of the caretaker’s house at Windsor Castle Park. 

The town ended up with a sublease agreement between Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC and Smithfield VA Events, where SVAE would pay $27,000 a year in rent over 15 years and the cost of the renovations were $347,017. The town retains ownership of the buildings. 

SVAE puts on three festivals a year at Windsor Castle Park and donates the proceeds to local charities and organizations, as well as to the town. Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC is the nonprofit established to oversee the restoration of the historic property.  

At the time, Tynes warned that if SVAE ceased to exist, the town would be responsible for paying back the loan, and she reiterates that scenario should the town do a similar agreement with SRA. 

Tynes is also concerned that some Town Council members conceive of these ideas outside of public scrutiny and then bring them to the full Council for a rubber stamp. 

“(If that’s the process to be used) Then citizens elect me to be a rubber stamp,” she said, adding that if that’s the case, the town might as well not have Town Council elections. 

Tynes said the loan idea is to be discussed at the next Smithfield Town Council committee meetings, which are held the fourth Monday and Tuesday of the month beginning at 3 p.m. at The Smithfield Center. {/mprestriction}