Motown project raises red flags

It’s time for the city of Vandalia to seriously look at discontinuing its relationship with the group that says it wants to build a $300-million sports and entertainment complex in Vandalia.

Why do we feel that way, in light of all of the jobs and money that the Motown project could bring into our community? The bad check the city received for the traffic study, of course, is one reason; but it is not the only reason.

While that check was stamped “not sufficient funds,” the Motown group says it was returned because it did not have the proper authorization. A Bank of America representative was unable to confirm that as of press time on Wednesday.

Regardless, we see this as yet another red flag.

We were told by Motown Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Bardwell in May that the group had a good jump on obtaining financing, and he told the city several times after that they were ahead of schedule.

Then, when the day to provide that proof of financing came, Motown said it would ask for an extension, but it could not formally ask for that extension at the time. That request came two months later.

The city granted Motown a seven-month extension, but it was really a nine-month extension, with the two months that had passed not being mentioned.

And as it presented its extension request, Bardwell made sure to notify those in the audience that he had brought a reimbursement check for a traffic study the city had paid for. Sadly, four days later, city officials learned that the check didn’t go through.

Now, we learn that the city won’t get its money for the study until the end of January or the beginning of February, if the Motown shareholders approve the payment. Until they do that, they are technically in default of the agreement approved by the council on Dec. 7.

For a group that has been trying to undertake a project like this for several years, it seems that they should have a better idea of how to proceed with issues like this, however minor they may be.

There’s also the issue of the feasibility study. We agree with Alderman Mike Hobler’s assessment that Motown has “put the cart before the horse.” For a project of this scope, it seems that everyone involved – particularly any investors and lenders – would like to know whether it’s feasible to build and operate a complex of this type in an area like Vandalia.

We just haven’t seen an urgency from the Motown group in resolving issues that have arisen at the initial stages of the project, such as the extension and the bad check. We wonder if that pattern would change down the road.

We also are seeing a conflict about the group’s plans for a similar project in Clark County, Ky. That is mentioned in the city’s extension agreement, and a Motown representative told us Tuesday that they may revisit that in the future.

Last week, an official in Clark County told us that they perceive the project as being dead there, because Motown has not responded to the county’s questions about how the group would finance the project.

Some city officials say that, because of the jobs and money such a project could bring to the city, it’s still worth considering because it’s not currently costing Vandalia any money. They add, however, that they will have to revisit the issue if the city is asked to expend more funds.

While it is not costing the city any money right now, it is an issue that requires an ongoing focus. In a time when we should be focusing on getting more jobs and improving our community, should we be diverted on an ongoing basis by issues that arise from the Motown group failing to live up to its contract? We’re not inclined to think so.


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