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SportsQuest Deals: Buy Now or Pay Later?



For a limited time only! Buy today and save millions! Wait 30 days and miss the opportunity of a lifetime!

Gesturing dramatically and intoning a tried-and-true sales strategy, Steve Burton, chief executive of SportsQuest, convinced the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors to cough up $4.3 million to lease nine synthetic turf fields and other facilities that are part of a planned, $250 million sports complex near Brandermill.

The problem is the fields don't exist. SportsQuest also doesn't own the land where the fields — beautiful, elite, pro turf fields — would be. Burton also hasn't presented publicly evidence that he has the financial wherewithal to build the first phase of the project, estimated at $30 million.

There's another catch, too: Burton wants the cash up front.

“We are investing millions into the local economy today. We are energizing the community with jobs, revenues for people who need work and economic development to drive people in 30 sports,” he tells the board May 26. “Do not step aside from that opportunity tonight. Reward your constituents.”

After the meeting, Burton says the county's contribution — $2.3 million to lease the fields for 20 years with another $2 million grant — wasn't mission critical. He just wanted to give the county the opportunity to get the best deal. Deferring a month to study the lease arrangement as supervisors Marleen Durfee and Jim Holland proposed would have simply led the county to miss out on millions of dollars in savings.

“We would not have been able to give them the long-term value,” Burton says.

But that doesn't jibe with how the deal was presented to the board.

“Our money is part of the original closing package that will get this project going,” Garrett Hart, development manager of new business for the county's Department of Economic Development, tells the supervisors. After Burton meets certain conditions, the $4.3 million will be ceded to SportsQuest as part of a “simultaneous closing” that will allow Burton to purchase about 100 acres for the east campus. To protect its investment, the county would get the first rights to the property, assessed at about $4 million, not unlike a private investor sinking seed capital into a new venture.

Holland, who's also an accountant, says the need for cash up front is indicative of cash-flow problems. “To me, it sends a lot of red flags,” he says Thursday, a day after the board's vote. “It doesn't seem like a viable thing to me. … We don't want to be his biggest investor at 4.3 million dollars.”

Economic development officials have reviewed SportsQuest's financials, Hart says, and are confident Burton has the ability to build the campus, and ultimately invest at least $100 million and create 500 jobs. But those financials haven't been shared publicly.

In February, Burton told Style Weekly that he'd collected significant private investments, adding that SportsQuest was generating millions in revenue, so much so that the entire first phase of the project would be constructed with “zero debt.”

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