Avondale’s former mayor proposes developing soccer fields on Euramex siteJohn Ellingson, left, and Ed Rieker, right, give a presentation at The Market in Avondale Estates on Jan. 5. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
Ed Rieker, the former mayor of Avondale Estates and a local businessman, is trying to build support for a plan to build soccer fields on property that’s slated for a mixed-use development.
There’s also a possibility Rieker might seek support from the city’s Downtown Development Authority, a body to which Rieker and other commissioners made appointments when he was the mayor. What form that support would take, and whether it would involve a financial commitment form the DDA, remained unclear.
“Those are great questions and we want to answer those questions,” Rieker told one member of the audience.
The proposal for soccer fields adds a new voice to the discussion about what to do with the property known as the Fenner Dunlop site, which is currently owned by Euramex. Details of the developer’s plans for the site are sketchy at best. Actually, there hasn’t even been a sketch of what the development would look like. There’s a vague outline of what Euramex wants to put there: 200 apartments and 80 town homes, .6 acres of green space and two 10,000 square foot retail spaces along North Avondale Road.
The lack of information has frustrated residents. Euramex came up on the campaign trail often in the run up to the Nov. 3 city election, as candidates fielded questions about how they would handle possible conflicts with the developer.
Rieker, who resigned in 2014 to take a university teaching job, told room full of people at The Market in Avondale on Jan. 5 that Euramex is likely years away from following through with its plans. He and his business partner, John Ellingson, said that the multitude of other apartment developments already underway mean the market will likely be saturated before work can begin on the Fenner Dunlop site.
Rieker and Ellingson are proposing leasing the property from Euramex for 10 years to build four soccer fields, two indoors and two outdoors. The lease would include an option that would allow Euramex to move forward with its plans, if it decides to pull the trigger before the lease is up.
The proposal suggests that having soccer fields would attract visitors to the city on a faster timetable than Euramex’s.
“We think it will generate 250,000 visitors on an annual basis to the downtown area,” Rieker said.
At the moment, not much is happening with the property.
“We’re an alternative to a concrete pad,” Ellingson said.
Rieker said he has already approached Euramex with the proposal, but so far the company isn’t biting.
“Their response is thank you for the option,” Rieker said.
The former mayor has business interests in downtown Avondale, including the Tudor Square building, which leases space to The Market in Avondale. He bought that property in 2013 while he was still mayor.
Rieker and Ellingson said there’s a critical need for soccer fields in DeKalb County.
“DeKalb County has a need for about 70 fields, based on population and usage. Now they have about 33 fields,” Rieker said.
Under the proposal, the venture would have an agreement with the Decatur DeKalb YMCA for scheduling soccer matches. Many people in the room were supportive of the idea.
Richard Richmond, a soccer coach for the YMCA, said there is a need for more fields.
“I support the concept,” he said. “We’ll see where it develops from there.”
Avondale Estates resident David Mattingly was skeptical.
“I like the idea of soccer fields but plainly stated, this is a for-profit enterprise and it bothers me that they are expecting our DDA to subsidize their temporary private venture,” Mattingly said. “Also, if they are successful in paying Euramex for a lease on the property, isn’t that giving Euramex more incentive not to build? I don’t understand how that is in the best long term interests of our City.”
Current Mayor Jonathan Elmore, who has been pressed for information about Euramex for months, said Rieker had approached him and other commissioners with his proposal.
“As a board member, as the mayor, what we’re looking at with any idea or any development is what’s really in the best long-term interest of the city. That includes tax revenue, but it also includes quality of life,” Elmore said. “Is this going to make our community better? And that’s our job. I mean, we’re looking after the community. So my question, with any scheme, whether it’s Euramex or some soccer complex or whatever, I want to look at several of these schemes and compare them. I really think our baseline should be, if we do what zoning says, if we do what zoning allows, how does that benefit our city? That should be the baseline, and then go from there. It’s a neat idea. My kids play soccer. I played sports. I like the idea. But what are the numbers? Is this going to work? Is this going to create some tax revenue? Is it revenue neutral? If it is revenue neutral, are we losing an opportunity on a revenue-positive type development that could’ve been in there for 10 years? We need to dig into all these schemes, and we have to look at what’s the best thing for the city long-term.”
Decaturish asked whether Rieker’s offer to Euramex could muddy the waters as the city negotiates with the developer. Elmore said it wouldn’t hinder those discussions. He said Rieker’s proposal faces some challenges.
“For that particular idea, there’s a number of hurdles,” Elmore said. “He’s got to get some kind of agreement with Euramex. He’s got to prove to us that this thing is actually good for the city. He’s got to win the board’s approval ultimately. That’s a major zoning change.”
When asked his thoughts on the city, or its DDA, providing financial support for the soccer field project, Elmore said it would depend on what’s in Rieker’s proposal.
“We’re a small city. We ain’t got a lot of money to spare. We’re not offering that to anyone else,” Elmore said.