Four years ago, a group of men approached the Unified Government of Wyandotte County with an ambitious proposal. They wanted to transform a flood plain into a $980 million "sports and entertainment destination resort."
The project, Sport World Live, sounded like a mash-up of the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World and the mother of all youth sports complexes. In addition to ball fields, horse stables and an international village, the plans called for a five-star hotel -- not to be confused with the same complex's "signature" hotel. There were to be vacation condos as well, to fulfill any visitor's fantasy of owning a time-share off Interstate 435 near the Missouri River.
At the time, The Pitch called the proposal ridiculous. That has turned out to be an understatement.
In April, an investor obtained a $503,359 judgment against some of the principals associated with Sport World Live. Filed in St. Louis County, the breach-of-contract case has brought a bit of clarity to a deal that never made any sense.
The Kansas City Development Group of Kansas City, Kansas, came forward with a "plan" for Sport World Live in the summer of 2007. Members of the development team included Craig Chambers, a thrice-divorced former bodybuilder who manages an equipment-rental business in Gladstone.
The Unified Government's Board of Commissioners invited the development team present its proposal. At a public meeting, several residents expressed bewilderment that so little information was made available about an undertaking so massive. Nevertheless, the board passed an ordinance that established a tax-increment-financing district for Sport World Live. Mayor Joe Reardon and other commissioners emphasized that their decision to create the TIF district did not amount to an endorsement of the proposal. But in a way, it was -- just considering the proposal had generated press attention, including coverage on local TV stations.
After the initial burst of attention, Sport World Live went nowhere. The developers had said they intended to apply for financing through the state's STAR bonds program, but Topeka never received the paperwork. The TIF district was established but not activated. "They never came back," says Unified Government spokesman Mike Taylor.
Chambers and his partners vanished on their landlord, as well. Last year, a judge in Johnson County ordered the team to pay a $4,708 judgment to a property owner in Olathe.
But it took the emergence of an investor who felt ripped off to explain the events
of 2007. The lawsuit filed in St. Louis County named Chambers; his wife, Shelly
Chambers; and Billy Ray Hughes, who had been presented as Sport World Live's
money man. The judge in the case entered a default judgment when the Chamberses
and Hughes failed to answer the claim.
Sport World Live was an idiotic idea. Unified Government officials should have recognized this and told Chambers (a former Mr. Missouri) and his partners to go ride the teacups. But they didn't, in part because setting up the boundaries of the TIF district carried no risk. The commission's decision didn't commit any public money to the project. The UG doesn't back the bonds on the county's TIF projects.
So if the bozos behind Sport World Live weren't after public money, what were they after? Perhaps gullible investors who would look at the county's deliberation and the press coverage it received as signs of worthwhile opportunity. In hindsight, the effort to establish the TIF district looks like the betting parlor that Paul Newman and Robert Redford faked in The Sting.
Chambers, who was sued by a grocery store in 2008 for writing a worthless check, isn't
talking about Sport World Live. The Pitch reached him by phone a few weeks after the judgment in St. Louis County was entered. "I will have somebody call you," he said when asked about the case. No call was made.
As for the Unified Government's role, Taylor says the UG "was very cautious in dealing with this development, as we are with all developments which approach us." Setting up the boundaries of the redevelopment district, Taylor continues, "had no negative impact."
But there's something to be said for not bewildering the citizenry with every lunkheaded scheme that shows up at the door.