By Paul Myers
Lindsay, Calif. – In the midst of clearing up their books the City of Lindsay decided it was time to start parting ways with McDermont Field House. In the 10 years it has been in operation, the City has lent it more than $3 million to continue operations, and the City is still paying for its construction. That bill is higher than $13 million.
Part of the process of alleviating that burden was to outsource the McDermont Field House’s management and operations. Last month, the City issued a request for proposal (RFP) inviting businesses to bid on the project. After running a notice in the Fresno Bee, only one business replied.
Former director of the McDermont Field House Clint Ashcraft, along with business partners Alfredo Velasco and Deici Avila, were the only ones who responded to the RFP. Their business was originally titled VAA, Inc. but was renamed McDermont Venture. During the Lindsay City Council’s Dec. 12 meeting the Council voted unanimously for city manager Bill Zigler to enter into negotiations and contract with McDermont Venture.
Given Zigler’s comments during the Dec. 12 meeting it does not appear as if negotiations will be tough.
“The great news is that they are eminently qualified because they are current McDermont management,” Zigler said. “If anyone can make it happen we believe these are the folks to make it happen.”
City staff said that McDermont Venture plans to make efforts to purchase the building at some point in the future. During the meeting Ashcraft addressed the council and thanked them in advance for going with McDermont Venture, especially considering that three of the five current council members were seated when McDermont was just an idea.
“This is your baby, especially the three that have been here and we really appreciate the opportunity at least for the consideration that we may be able to take it over,” Ashcraft said. “We take that very seriously and we have every intention of putting in everything we got to make it successful.”
Ashcraft was not available for comment before press time to discuss his new business.
While getting through the door to enter into negotiations with the City is a feather in McDermont Venture’s cap, there may be some turbulent waters ahead with competition potentially coming into town.
During the same Dec. 12 meeting Council voted 4-0 with councilman Brian Watson abstaining to waive the first reading of a Highway Commercial zoning ordinance change to include “sports complex” and “sports facilities” as conditional uses.
The consideration comes as a result of the Orsborn family who owns the large parcel of property at the northwest corner of the Highway 65, Hermosa intersection.
Gordon Orsborn who represented the family at the meeting told the Council and staff their family not only deals in agriculture but also in real estate and finances. Orsborn said that he is the point person in identifying opportunities for growth and the family already owns sports complexes in Southern California. According to Orsborn the complexes are a place where pre-collegiate, collegiate and professional athletes come to train. However that is not exactly their aim in Lindsay.
“We want to be the premier championship level, multisport, indoor, outdoor complex in the Central Valley,” Orsborn said and added that he wants to title the facility Central Valley Sports Center.
Orsborn said that he identified a lack of training complexes in the Central Valley. If parents and student athletes want to compete at a higher level they have to travel down to Los Angeles or up to the Bay Area. He added that parents in the region have made those types of drives for years because there is not an alternative. And what makes Lindsay particularly attractive is its location.
Lindsay falls nearly in the middle of Bakersfield and Fresno, which are relatively densely populated cities. As well the Orsborn family already owns the land where they want to build the complex. The rub is that McDermont already exists in Lindsay, and is almost ready to go through a major management change. City staff is weary of the potential a second sports facility could cause one or both businesses to fail. As a result city staff recommended the Council not approve the change.
“Staff recommends more time is given to the existing McDermont Fieldhouse to determine if an additional regional complex would supplement or detract from the existing regional complex,” a Lindsay staff report on the topic stated.
Orsborn and Jason Brennan, the principle operator of the family’s other sports complex Next Level Sports, said that what they do is different than McDermont. He said instead of being the sports recreation business as McDermont, they are in the business of sports tourism.
“It’s not a birthday party or a basketball league a guy plays in after work, or a volleyball league some kid plays in after school. It’s about these people who want to figure out how to get these kids a college scholarship,” Brennan said. “[Parents will] come, they’ll have to come.”
The complex would encompass 25,000 square feet in whole and construction could be complete within 12 to 18 months.
Orsborn sold the idea of an additional sports complex in town using the same argument most developers use: projecting increased revenue. Builders and owners often times project tourism revenue as a key reason cities should approve changes in favor of buisnesses. In fact it was one of the reasons three of the five sitting council members approved plans for McDermont almost a decade ago.
“The City of Lindsay will be in a really fortified strategic position…what we will do is build a gigantic moat around what you have here and forever entrench Lindsay as the epicenter of sports tourism, sports recreation and sports training,” Orsborn said.
Orsborn and Brennan said that they want to go on and build a retail center there with Central Valley Sports Center being the anchor tenant. They added that existing businesses at the intersection would see a boost in sales if more families were coming into the area to train at the facility. But there was ambivalence amongst council members.
“We had a passion when we opened McDermont…we were packing houses and oranges and we wanted diversity,” said councilman Steve Velasquez. “[Cities] see this all the time that cities open up another market and everyone goes over there and you have empty stores at the other place.”
Vice mayor Danny Salinas said that there is a possibility that families visit McDermont when they drop their kids off to train at the training complex.
“I think it’s actually going to be beneficial for McDermont…I’m kind of optimistic,” Salinas said.
Orsborn continued to sell the idea to the Council by noting that they may lose this opportunity if they don’t act fast.
“Right now you guys are vulnerable because someone could do the same thing up in Visalia and now you’ve got a real problem…why not do it here and get it done right,” Orsborn said.
During public comment before the vote, Ashcraft said that he sees some potential positives for McDermont in this deal but he is filled with more skepticism than anything else.