The Wellington Village Council approved the framework of a comprehensive agreement with the Wellington Athletics group on Tuesday, June 14 that aims to turn the old Wellington Community Park into a nationally recognized sports training facility.
The project is being led by professional football player Jon Bostic, a graduate of Palm Beach Central High School who played for the University of Florida and several NFL franchises, most recently with the Washington Commanders. He is leading a business group that includes a number of other professional athletes.
“I’ve grown up here and played a lot of different sports here,” Bostic said. “We’ve always thought about how we could give back to these kids. We followed the blueprint, and now we want to give the blueprint to these kids.”
Wellington Community Park, located 3401 South Shore Blvd., is the former home of the Wellington Boys & Girls Club. Dating back to the 1980s, it has not seen any major renovations and has been underutilized since the Boys & Girls Club built a new facility elsewhere in 2013. The only building on site is currently used for storage.
Looking to give it a new lease on life, Wellington put out a request for proposals last year and received a proposal from Bostic and his group. The village and Wellington Athletics have been working toward a comprehensive agreement ever since.
“As this project came together, we saw how valuable it could be for these kids and this community,” Bostic said. “Going forward, this is something we really believe in. If we give these kids the resources, the coaches and the facilities, a lot more of them can go and do what they always dreamed of doing.”
Assistant Village Manager Ed De La Vega gave the council a summary of the framework agreement.
The framework is for a public-private partnership. The term is for 30 years with two optional 25-year renewals. Wellington will retain ownership of the land and the improvements, leasing it to Wellington Athletics.
The agreement is subject to council approval of the public financing and a favorable market study, which is in the works. The estimated cost is $36 million, with $3 million from the company and $33 million from public financing.
The village will have ongoing benefits as part of the completed project. It will have complete access to a multi-purpose field seven days a week during operating hours, as well as one full indoor basketball court during certain specified hours.
“This will really help us a lot with the lack of gym space that we have,” De La Vega said.
Softball and baseball fields will be available to the village after 1 p.m. on Saturdays, with additional village use subject to availability. Palm Beach Central High School will be able use the baseball and softball fields for night home games.
A detailed project schedule is included to keep the project moving forward quickly.
“We have pretty much outlined the entire schedule we’re hoping to obtain,” De La Vega said.
If approved, the project will take 10 months to break ground and 24 months to complete, he explained.
While the council members were generally favorable to the project, they wanted more information regarding the financing agreement.
“The village is guaranteeing the financing, retaining ownership, and we are expecting that the money made from the project will repay that money so that we are not out the financing costs,” Mayor Anne Gerwig said, asking village staff members for verification.
De La Vega said that Wellington is still gathering the data to make sure that the project will not cost the taxpayers in the long run.
Deputy Village Manager Tanya Quickel said that the village’s financing team will be back in July with more details about how the financing will work.
“The revenue from their operation will be used to make the debt payments,” she said. “But if for some reason that doesn’t happen, Wellington will be responsible for making the debt payments.”
Should the project fail, the village would then take over the facility, since it retains ownership.
Village Manager Jim Barnes recommended approval of the framework agreement and added that should the worst-case scenario happen, and Bostic’s group fails, Wellington will still have a far more valuable asset than it currently has.
The village’s cost to renovate and replace the existing facility is at least $20 million as a public park project, Barnes estimated, and that is not to the world-class standards planned by Bostic.
“The value added here is Mr. Bostic and his team, and what they plan to give back to the community,” Barnes said.
Wellington has hired Don Schumacher with DSA Sports, an expert in sports facilities, to review the proposal.
Councilman John McGovern asked if Schumacher’s review is complete. Village staff said that it is ongoing with a full market study underway. It will be complete before the project gets final approval.
Schumacher was at the meeting and said that his “situation analysis” is ongoing.
“We are in the process of evaluating all of the hard work Wellington Athletics has put into this project,” he said, adding that while his analysis is not complete, he has not seen anything yet that would make him want to warn against moving forward with the framework. “I don’t have any information in front of me that says this is a bad idea.”
Bostic said that the key is bringing in top-rated trainers who are experts in their field. He expects the academy programs will be the project’s big money-maker. “Having a baseball academy and a softball academy in Wellington is going to be huge,” Bostic said. “We see a huge need in the community already.”
He noted that community recreation programs are losing players to academy programs and said that Wellington will benefit by having such programs available locally.
The payment will be in membership fees for the academy, which centralizes trainers all in one place and includes a membership-based gym for academy families, as well as value-added services like a physical therapy office and chiropractic office on site.
“We are working hard to put all of these components in one place,” Bostic said, adding that there will be robust opportunities for scholarships for athletes who cannot afford the service.
Attending the meeting via phone was Jim Arnold, a partner with Sports Facilities Companies, a firm that manages many sports training venues. His company is based in Clearwater and already operates several venues in Florida and dozens around the nation.
Arnold’s firm is slated to be the management company overseeing the facility for Bostic’s group. His job is to work on profitability, driving a return on the investment.
“We have a number of venues of the size and scale on this. We are very bullish on this project,” Arnold said. “This would be first of its kind in Palm Beach County. It would be the top dog as far as facility offerings and facility quality up and down the east coast of Florida.”
He predicted that the Wellington Athletics facility will be in positive net income after payment of the bonds by year three.
Quickel noted that Wellington is in a strong position financially with very little debt, which means that the village can finance the project at the lowest interest rate possible.
There was some discussion about what type of market analysis is needed for the project.
Arnold said that since he has expertise with similar facilities around the nation, it only takes a few weeks for his firm to produce a basic report.
He said he came on board with the project because he believes it will be successful.
Schumacher, however, said that a full market analysis will take several months, and he recommended keeping the village’s analysis separate from the one done by Sports Facilities Companies.
“I think this is an idea that we are all generally supportive of and want to continue into the next phase of study,” McGovern said.
Barnes agreed. “Our recommendation is to approve the framework and allow the project to move forward,” he said.
Village Attorney Laurie Cohen has also reviewed the framework. “I believe this is a good agreement for us to move forward on,” she said.
Vice Mayor Michael Drahos also wanted to move forward with the project.
“This is a park that is 35 years old, and we have not put any money into upgrades,” he said. “Tonight is not the last step, it is the first step in the process. I remain optimistic about the project, and I support it.”
A motion to approve the framework and move forward passed unanimously.