by Scott McClallen
Plans for Project Phoenix, a proposed $80 million, 50-acre sports complex in Lenawee County fueled by COVID money, have fizzled.
“Project Phoenix was shelved because the chances of funding assistance from the State of Michigan did not appear to be forthcoming,” Lenawee County Administrator Kimberly Murphy told The Center Square in a Monday email.
The news follows the economic development group Lenawee Now calling for an independent audit of the project that could have cost up to $80 million – more than twice Lenawee County’s 2021 revenue of $31 million.
However, its funding source was unclear. Local officials lacked the money, but suggested spending $10 million of federal COVID money on the project and requested additional state and federal aid.
“I am very disappointed to have to bring this news before the board,” Murphy said in a statement. “We have all been working very hard to do our due diligence during the early stages of this project and the numbers suggest this project could be a real catalyst for our community and economy. Mere weeks ago, we were on track to see state and federal investment of over $10-15 million into Lenawee County. Now that money will go to other communities. It is unfortunate that some individuals and agencies within our community advocated that money not be spent in Lenawee County.”
Local leaders hoped the Tecumseh location would attract out-of-town travel sports teams and boost the local economy with money, create 200 part-time and full-time jobs, and make the facility self-sustaining via generating $15.2 million annually in total economic activity.
The proposed facility could have housed:
- Five FIFA/NCAA regulation lighted outdoor turf soccer/football/lacrosse fields.
- Four lighted outdoor turf baseball/softball diamonds.
- Eight indoor basketball courts convertible to 16 volleyball courts, several convertible pickleball or tennis courts.
- Eight-lane indoor NCAA regulation 200-meter track.
- Golf academy.
- Future development, including two indoor ice rinks and a swimming and diving building called a natatorium.
A report from Crossroads Consulting said the facility would operate at a financial loss if it didn’t secure enough vendors, and taxpayers would foot the additional costs.
Roger Johnson of Deerfield Township opposed the project.
He wrote an opinion piece in the Monroe News saying that local taxpayers want upgraded roads, infrastructure, and more clean water access instead of a sports complex.
“The spending focus for most of us, whether it’s $20 million or $30 million or $80 million of government dollars, is the desire for upgraded county roads and infrastructure, fixing the fragile first responder network and helping with access to affordable clean water,” he wrote.
“To spend over two times the total annual county budget on an ‘elite athlete’ sports complex would seemingly be FAR down the priority list for most people here,” Johnson said.
The report also noted the proposed facility could face “strong competition” from the region’s existing sports facilities in the region, and that “several peer facilities operate at a deficit.”
Murphy said she still wants to create jobs in the county.
“Our vision for the future of Lenawee County remains the same,” Murphy said. “We want to create jobs, we want to make this a community attractive to young families, and we want to provide more programs and services for our residents. We’ve identified some gaps as part of these efforts, but we need revenue streams to fund these and facilities to house them.”
– – –
Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Image “Project Phoenix” by Lenawee County.