Before approving the sale of district-owned land at 4617 Leppert Road to Rockford Homes on April 22, Hilliard school board members said they received an offer from another buyer.
That offer from the founder of the nonprofit organization Help All Kids Play matched the $50,000 per acre the district paid for the 124-acre parcel between Leppert and Cosgray roads that once was the potential site for a third high school.
However, the payment would have been spread out, possibly for as long as 30 years.
Instead, the district sold the tract to Rockford Homes for $40,000 per acre, but the sale is contingent upon Rockford Homes obtaining the desired rezoning and development plan. The district would receive $4,960,000, less a 3-percent brokerage fee.
The planned sale to Rockford Homes reflects a net loss of $10,000 per acre for the school district, which purchased the tract from the Grener family in 2003.
District officials said April 29 while the proposal for athletics fields was a preferred use, the district could not risk playing the role of a financier.
"It wasn't an either-or proposition," board President Andy Teater said. "We were excited at the chance to have athletics fields there for our kids, but at the end of the day, Help All Kids Play could not get financing."
"If (Help All Kids Play) couldn't get financing, the board did not think we should put taxpayer dollars at risk by becoming, essentially, a lender."
Teater said the proposal presented a further problem in that it could have obligated future board members to the terms of a contract, contrary to Ohio Revised Code.
"We can't obligate future boards ... or compel a future board with a lease-to-purchase agreement," Teater said. "We tried to be creative in a number of ways, but we couldn't find a solution to satisfy our legal counsel."
Board members Paul Lambert and Heather Keck concurred.
"Our only concern was financing," Lambert said. "It was certainly our preference to have the sports complex there, but to do so required the district to be a lender and we were not comfortable with that."
"I wish the offer would have worked," Keck said. "The way the offer had to be structured was not viable for the district (and our attorney) recommended against the offer."
The offers from Rockford Homes and Help All Kids Play were the only formal offers the board received for the land in the past six years, Teater said.
Patrick Shivley, a Columbus developer who is founder and managing director of Help All Kids Play, said he presented his proposal to Hilliard board members during a closed executive session July 5, 2012.
"I'm disappointed," Shivley said. "We presented an offer that would have resulted in the district getting back all the money it paid for the property, but we could only do that over a period of time."
Help All Kids Play also paid for a traffic impact study and commissioned an economic impact study.
Shivley said the organization, founded three years ago, would have made scheduled payments to the district. Help All Kids Play would have used 70 percent of its anticipated profits.
The proposal called for the organization to purchase the property at the conclusion of a 30-year lease, but Shivley said he anticipated Help All Kids Play would have reimbursed the district for the full purchase price in about half that time, 15 years.
"They didn't like our timeframe," Shivley said. "They wanted 100 percent of the money now and we could only pay them over a period of time."
The failed proposal also would have involved a cooperative effort with the Mid-Ohio Select Soccer League to fund infrastructure at the site, Shivley said.
"We worked a long time on this proposal," Shivley said.
He said the school board informed him in October that it could not finance the purchase and suggested a long-term lease. He said the board never said it would be willing to consider less than $50,000 per acre.
Shivley said the board asked him to obtain a letter of support from the city, which he did, but was later told the board did not want to wait as long as 30 years for the full purchase amount.
"We did what they asked, then they said, 'No, we're not interested,' " Shivley said.
Several city officials have expressed disappointment in the school board's decision.
Mayor Don Schonhardt and City Council President Brett Sciotto both said last week it was "hypocritical" for the school board to sell to Rockford Homes after previously opposing other residential developments in the city.
Sciotto also said April 30 he regretted that district officials did not reach out to the city.
"I saw the proposal (to the board) and I think additional due diligence by the board could have been done," Sciotto said. "They didn't reach out to us to see if we would be a willing partner, nor did they try to identify other partners that could have made the proposal work.
"The city remains interested in athletics fields in this area and we will work with Rockford Homes to try and make it a reality by doing what the district wasn't willing to do."
Robert Yoakam, president of Rockford Homes, said April 30 the company is willing to consider setting aside land for athletics fields.
Hilliard Economic Development Director David Meeks said he was disappointed Help All Kids Play's offer was rejected.
"(An athletics campus) would attract large numbers of people to support our small businesses and hotels," Meeks said.
Christy Clark, executive director of Destination Hilliard, said such a campus could have accommodated tournaments that would attract large numbers of visitors to support restaurants, hotels and other businesses.
Shivley said he is planning a similar sports complex at the NorthGate Centre, the tentative name for the development planned near the Interstate 71 interchange at state routes 36 and 37 in Delaware County.
His development company, NorthGate Centre Development, proposed outlet malls on about 1,300 acres at the interchange and has set aside 80 acres for Help All Kids Play.
He said the Delaware County fields would have been built regardless of the fate of the Hilliard proposal.