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The 46,000-square-foot center’s features include basketball and volleyball courts. 
SBJ file 
The 46,000-square-foot center’s features include basketball and volleyball courts. 

City eyes Fieldhouse purchase 

Posted online

Parks Director Bob Belote shared what he called a unique opportunity at Monday’s Springfield City Council meeting: the chance for the city to buy the Fieldhouse Sportscenter. 

Located at 2235 W. Kingsley St., adjacent to the Springfield-Greene County Park Board’s Chesterfield Family Center, the Fieldhouse Sportscenter was described by Belote as “one of the best indoor sports facilities you’re going to find anywhere in the Midwest.” 

Council's agenda included a measure to put $2 million of the $40 million it received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 toward the purchase of the Fieldhouse. However, one resident showed up to object to this use of funds that were intended for coronavirus recovery, and for an unrelated reason, Councilperson Andrew Lear ultimately offered an amendment to take ARP funding off the table for the Fieldhouse purchase. 

Belote gave a presentation about the features of the 46,000-square-foot Fieldhouse, with its basketball and volleyball facilities and its potential to host pickleball, wrestling and other indoor sports, as well as swap meets and craft fairs. Belote said the Park Board could offer additional youth sports programming in the facility, which he said is in fantastic shape. 

Of the four full-sized gyms on the premises, Belote said, “Calling them gyms is almost a disservice. … This is about as good as it gets.” 

The Fieldhouse is privately owned by Dr. Craig and Kristen Naugle, and to sweeten the pot, the owners have offered the city a price 25% below market value as a way of donating toward the purchase. Belote said the Naugles have raised their children and are ready to slow downwhich led to their desire to sell the Fieldhouse. 

“They would really like to see this stay in the community,” Belote said of the Naugles. “There’s a lot of TLC they’ve put in the facility, and it shows when you are there.” 

Belote clarified that the Park Board cannot afford the facility on its own, and city involvement would be necessary. David Holtmann, director of finance for Springfield, initially explained the $2 million allocation from the ARP funds would be appropriated, and the city would issue a $5.2 million bond to buy the Fieldhouse. He said the city has an AA1 rating, and that it was given an AA3 rating for the Fieldhouse bond. The interest cost would be approximately 1.7%, for payments of $390,000 per year for 15 years, according to Holtmann. 

The Park Board will retire its debt on Dan Kinney Family Center in six years, he said, and for those six years, the city would pay the $390,000 out of carryover funds to pay off the Fieldhouse debt. After six years, the Park Board would take responsibility for payments by using the funds that had been earmarked for Dan Kinney debt relief. 

Resident Jonathan Garten offered public comment about the council bills related to the purchase: Council Bill 2021-207, which would authorize the city manager to enter into an agreement to purchase the Fieldhouse with special obligation improvement bonds, and Council Bill 2021-208, which would direct the issuance, sale and delivery of the bonds in a principal amount not to exceed $5.2 million and appropriating $2 million of ARP funds for the purchase. 

It was Garten’s contention that the ARPA funds are not intended for something like a Fieldhouse purchase. He cited information from the city’s website that explained ARP funds could be used for four purposes: to respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, to provide premium pay to eligible workers, for the provision of governmental services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to COVID-19 and to invest in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. 

Garten, who called the Fieldhouse purchase a misuse of emergency funds, said the project is way out of step with the city’s needs and would not improve the lives of the people who need council’s assistance most. 

Holtmann said the Fieldhouse purchase would fall under ARP’s guidelines, and that this aspect of the project had been reviewed by BKD LLP at the request of the city. The city experienced revenue loss of more than $30 million in fiscal 2020, Holtmann said, and the Park Board specifically lost over $5.2 million in fiscal years 2020-21.  

“We’re looking at replacing approximately $2 million that they would have lost in activity fees,” Holtmann said. 

As it turned out, Councilperson Lear took issue with a different aspect of the expenditure than Garten outlined, and he offered an amendment to the funding measures to use $2 million in carryover funding rather than ARP funds. The city currently has a carryover of just under $5 million, and the first $230,000 bond payment would also be taken from that fund. 

Lear expressed concern that two ARP expenditures were presented to council at the meeting – the Fieldhouse purchase and an $8 million appropriation for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. 

While Lear said he was very much in favor of the Fieldhouse purchase, he is concerned the project was brought forth to council without the recommendation of the committee, led by Councilperson Matthew Simpson, that was convened to set priorities and make recommendations to council for use of the ARP funds. 

Lear explained that at the last meeting of the ARP committee, members received a scoring guide to be used to sift through funding requests and to determine what funding priorities to take back to the full council.  

“While I fully support the purchase of this project, what I’m concerned about is that because of timing that we don’t control we need to make this decision now prior to having gone through that process,” Lear said. 

Councilperson Simpson agreed that it is not the desire of the committee to take a piecemeal approach with ARP funding.  

“We elevated it simply because it was timely, and we need a decision on it,” he said. 

Councilperson Abe McGull said that because Lear’s amendment would not affect the overall project, he had no problem with it. Referring to Garten, he chuckled, “I guess that young man was a stronger advocate than I thought he was.” 

Councilperson Richard Ollis and Mayor Ken McClure voted against the amendment, which nevertheless passed, and the Fieldhouse purchase will be taken up at the Aug. 23 meeting. A public hearing will be held on the amendment portion of the bill at the recommendation of the city attorney. 

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Molly

As long as Springfield has health and housing needs, there is no justification in spending emergency funds on yet another perk for the already well-situated. Buy the Fieldhouse if we can afford it, but not at the expense of the poorest and least served members of our community.

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