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Is sports facility a quixotic quest?

Aaron Kremer February 8, 2010 18

Each time Steve Burton talks about SportsQuest, his plan sounds more ambitious.

It has been his dream for more than seven years to build the Mecca of sports facilities – complete with turf soccer fields, an indoor bicycle track, a 5,000-seat arena, minor league teams, swimming facilities and more – devoted to every level of competition and training.

And as he gets closer to breaking ground on the 250-acre Chesterfield County project, his plan is getting even bolder, with underwater cameras to film swim meets and broadcast them over the Internet, and family entertainment venues.

“People will come to SportsQuest for a tournament, and while they are here, they will have a membership,” he said during a recent interview in the Boulders office park, where he has set up shop inside the offices of Timmons Engineering. “Every night there will be a Bonnie Raitt concert or a chili cook-off.”

His voice rises a few notes and his smile broadens.

“The Frisbee golf association reached out to us, and we can put holes off the playing fields. It will be a pretty fun thing.”

But as Burton’s enthusiasm and concept have grown, so have the project’s price tag and the skepticism of the local business community, which wonders how Burton can pull off a facility that has no real comparable model and that relies on so heavily on financing during a severe recession.

Business owners in similar industries also wonder where he is getting his figures, such as the 10,000 members Burton says SportsQuest already has. (That figure, Burton said, is based on participants at current facilities that might be partners with SportsQuest, such as the two ice skating rinks and RISE, an indoor sports training warehouse adjacent to the future SportsQuest campus.)

Of course, there is no guarantee that athletes at other facilities will join SportsQuest. And, at times, Burton has stretched the truth.

For example, a news release on his website carried this headline: “SportsQuest Gets $15 Million More in Federal Stimulus Funds.”

That’s not quite true. Chesterfield County awarded SportsQuest the right to sell tax-exempt bonds on the open market. They are not government bonds, nor do they carry any government guarantee, according to Chesterfield officials. And they have not been sold.

After an inquiry from BizSense, the headline was changed to: “SportsQuest is allocated another $15 million in Federal Stimulus Bonds.”

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18 Comments »

  1. Matt February 8, 2010 at 8:22 am - Reply

    Fantastic coverage

  2. Michael February 8, 2010 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Although I had seen the plans for this project online and had heard rumors about it, this article provides much more information than any other source to date. Thank you!

  3. John Lindner February 8, 2010 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Ditto. If only the media gave this kind of scrutiny to other development projects in the Richmond area, we wouldn’t be saddled with so many white elephants. Kudos to BizSense for first rate reporting.

  4. Patrick February 8, 2010 at 9:47 am - Reply

    What an idea. Never going to get off the ground.

  5. Mug February 8, 2010 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Great article. In thisTown–if he does not have Sportsbackers–he doesnt have a chance. He is making a lot of promises to a lot of people all over town–Tiem will tell

  6. Mike Ogilvie February 8, 2010 at 10:38 am - Reply

    I love the idea of SportsQuest and have high hopes that it will be very successful. You can definitely count me among the fans! The model is sound and will be a tremendous boon to Chesterfield County and eventually the entire Richmond area.

    I for one am extremely thankful to Burton for putting the effort and drive behind the project. It takes risk and sweat from people like Steve to make really cool things happen and make the Richmond area and even better place to work and live.

    The coverage on this story is really in-depth and appreciated, but it does leave a bit of an after taste of over-zealous pessimism. I’ll chalk that up to my over-sensitivity as a fan. Looking forward to reading more stories that go into this much depth on actual boondoggles in the state.

  7. pc February 8, 2010 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Good article. I have met Mr. Burton few times. I am very impressed by his capacity to make things happen from nothing. you have to be ambitious and dreamer to make things happen. he understands that it will be not easy to pull through this project. But I found in him a determined person who has the understanding of financing as well as marketing to produce revenue from various sources. his success of doing this project is the success for entire Richmond metro. I hope your readers provide more innovative ideas to those investors who will take risk to make Richmonder’s lives more interesting.

    I like your newsletter very much and reads it regularly
    .

  8. Jeff February 8, 2010 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    The Sportsplex complex would provide a venue for many multisport athletes and other non-traditional sporting groups that are not served by present facilities such as the ones mentioned in the article. These non-traditional sports such as triathlon, cycling, etc. are a growing trend in the county and especially among older affluent adults who could afford the membership cost. These older adults can afford country club memberships, but would rather participate in non-traditional sports rather than golf or tennis. Multisport athletes alone could account for thousands of memberships (based on event numbers for local event registration), so I don’t believe Mr. Burtons expectations are out of line, rather the people chosen to be interviewed for the artical are not in touch with the needs of the athletes to whom Mr. Burton is trying to serve.

  9. Robert Black February 9, 2010 at 1:25 am - Reply

    Aaron Kremer mentions three times in this article that an indoor bike racing track (enclosed velodrome) is part of the SportsQuest plan. Not only is this information not available at the Sports Quest web site–but the tour of the future campus shows an outdoor velodrome. Since the difference in price between the two is $15M or more and since this is an article about about the lavish costs and impractical plan of SportsQuest–shouldn’t this fact be checked? What I’d really like to know is–is this new information or wrong information? Thank you.

  10. Steve Cook February 9, 2010 at 7:53 am - Reply

    With all the other amenities mentioned, I would imagine that the facility will offer some sort of time travel portal that would allow members to visit various and wondrous dimensions. I’m wondering if maybe it might be a good idea to travel about five years into the future now. You know, just to look around and see if ground has been broken by then.

  11. Jon February 9, 2010 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    well written and a great piece of journalism…..

    Say I go to the sales office now, sign up or have signed up, what do I get.

    As in right now.

    Do I have access to the land where sportsquest will be?

    Can I hang out in the office and do push ups on the floor?

    Can I hunt on the wooded property? Bear, Deer, Moose?

    Can I brag to my friends that I am a member of a sports facility that doesn’t exsist, that may exsist?

    Also where is my money being spent? Is it going to the office space, the salaries of the Sportsquest staff, the marketing campaigns, towards the gas of the car that drives Mr. Burton to the NBC station to talk about his visionary wonder that will bring the 2020 Olympics to Chesterfield.

    Do I get my membership fees back if sports quest never becomes a reality?

    Many questions….please advise.

  12. Kate Dunn February 9, 2010 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    I recently attended a gymnastic meet at a facility in Prince George county that included an indoor swimming arena, indoor soccer fields, indoor track stadium, volleyball courts, basketball courts, a cafe and of course the enormous gymnastics venue. The facility appeared to be some type of joint venture between the county and private investment. When we arrived parking attendants directed us to a parking lot based on the event we were attending. Several thousand people attended the gymnastics meet at $10 per head. I imagine there were other people there paying a similar price to attend an indoor track meet or indoor soccer tournament. The Washington area has a larger population but there were teams from all over Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania in attendance. There is no reason Richmond could not host events of this magnitude. Already the city hosts 100s of soccer teams for the Jefferson cup and other tournaments for other sports and let’s not forget the revenue generated from the NASCAR and formula one events held here. Roanoke has built quite a lucrative business hosting softball tournaments and many are national events. I haven’t seen the business model but it could be viable.
    As the mother of a travel softball player and baseball player, we have spent tens of 1,000s of dollars in other cities all over the country during the last ten years. Several years ago Chesterfield hosted the NSA Softball nationals and it was actually embarrassing. The facilities (fields) and opening ceremony venue did not compare with what we had seen in other cities. The plan for this facility might seem overly aggressive but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a economic catalyst for the area. I hope Mr. Burton has a great plan not only for the facility but to market it and our area as a venue for national sports competitions.

  13. Jessee Owens February 9, 2010 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    I believe Mr. Burton has an indoor velodrome in His lavish original campus,(West-side). Their (SportsQuests’ drawings are pretty lavish, and if one max.’s the images, there are #’d and lettered codes of explanation on the Sportsquest web-site. it is an exciting plan. whether it comes to fruition or not remains to be seen. there certainly are a # of Running venues, and fields of Honor. the complex is div. by the State Rte.#588. It is a very impressive and optimistic project for sure.
    I think I will keep my $$ close+walk on the tax-payor paid + available running track for now, 5 min. from my house. thanks for the great article!! I have been following this topic with great attention since I have read about it being part of the Great Government Bail-out, although Now I have learned that all of that simply, “ain’t true.”

  14. Laurie Mehler February 10, 2010 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    The entire community is behind this venture and the potential is clear. At this point in time it is about looking at what is working & not working, being humble enough to admit mistakes, having the integrity to learn the lessons from history and move forward. Ideas, thoughts, and talk do not matter if they are not followed up with action that exist in physical space. Proven experts with integrity and passion need to be involved in the business plan. Structured grant platforms and sponsor pricing levels need to be set and available to the public and the individual targeted sports organizations so they can cut the checks. This is not happening and no information was available on this at the SportsQuest summit in December ’09. We all want to see Dr Burton’s dream come true. Is there a SportsQuest Advisory Board? The sport of triathlon or multisport supports the entire vision.

  15. Steve Burton February 10, 2010 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    First, I want to thank Aaron for spending some time getting to know SportsQuest. Unfortunately, it is difficult to fully comprehend our unique business model in a short interview. As a result, the story inadvertently misled the local business community as to the viability of SportsQuest. Since the SportsQuest campus will be such a tremendous asset for the Greater Richmond area, and since SportsQuest is currently enjoying such tremendous momentum, I feel compelled to clarify potential misunderstanding.

    In a nutshell, our underlying business model was questioned by raising doubt as to whether youth and adults playing sports in one of our existing facilities will really “join SportsQuest,” and whether we will be able to sell the number of memberships necessary to be successful. You misunderstand. Players at our other facilities would already be SportsQuest members and enjoy a host of benefits on our new campus because they signed up – and paid – to play a sport in one of our existing facilities. The real questions are: (i) will some players upgrade their memberships, entitling them to more benefits and greater access to our campus, (ii) whether their families (and friends) will also elect to become members of SportsQuest; and (iii) will new individuals, couples and families join SportsQuest at one membership level or another.

    And we can now answer each question with a resounding yes! Not only are many existing members upgrading their existing membership levels (and generating additional revenue for SportsQuest), but their family members, friends and others are joining by the hundreds each and every month. Based on existing campus and player members, we will open the new campus in 2010 with millions of dollars in revenues. And more people are joining at an affordable level for their family every day.

    SportsQuest is a member-based business model; we offer a wide variety of memberships which community residents can choose to purchase, ranging from affordable basic campus access to playing in our sports programs to daily participation on high performance sport teams. The cost of these membership options vary by the level of facility access and program benefits. You can determine if you want to simply enjoy recreational sports or chase your dreams of high performance like the two SportsQuest team skaters who were featured on the Times Dispatch Sports front page today for making the 2010 Winter Olympic Team.

    I should also address the questions raised about the velodrome. It was always described and illustrated as an outdoor facility – you can take a campus tour on our web site and see this as well as other elements on the future campus. The cost of an indoor structure would be cost prohibitive and foolishly impractical. We identified an existing velodrome that can be relocated and leased for a nominal amount.

    Your article suggests SportsQuest is improperly founded. Nothing could be further from the truth. The financial successes and community/political support we have experienced to date have been beyond even my optimistic expectations. Every day, I am encouraged by community members who reach out in person – who often stop me on the street corner or in a coffee shop to express their support. I receive a constant stream of email and phone calls from all walks of life – responding to a common passion of improving our community experience and a desire to support our concept of Sports for Life. I will confess that I am often quite moved by the passion of strangers who feel compelled to share what they hope our project will bring to the Greater Richmond area. Stay tuned over the coming months for many exciting announcements as SportsQuest partners and programs are unveiled!

  16. Mike D March 23, 2010 at 11:33 am - Reply

    Mr. Burton continues to mislead the public with his blown-up notions of bringing Olympians to Richmond. He has not fully considered the impact to the region and it’s sad to say that he’s gained access to federal funds (if he can get all his investors lined up) that should be focused on projects which will positively impact our region for years to come.

    Anyone who knows anything about the construction process knows he will not open anything worth visiting in 2010, albeit he may have a mud-pit of a field available by September. SOOOOWEEEE!

    What he is effectively creating is the Wal-Mart model for sporting venues. A facility that is far too large to be a quality venue, that will not be able to sustain the necessary funding to remain successful after the “buzz” has worn off, and will ultimately end up as an empty parking lot with weeds growing up from the asphalt.

    This is the only article I’ve seen that calls this spade a spade. It is incredibly frustrating that a project like this has gained any support from the county or citizens while projects that can positively impact our region are frowned upon because they’re in the City.

    The funding directed to Short Pump (thank you, oh thank you Henrico County) could have turned Broad Street into Madison Avenue and given our entire region something to be excited about. Instead, the county turned its back on the region and served only itself. This project is Chesterfield’s version of Short Pump.

  17. David M June 8, 2010 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    Every time Mr Burton speaks he uses the words “member-based business model” Hogwash — The Federal govt put $15 million Stimulus funds into this project. Chesterfield county is putting up $100 Million Bond, in addition to giving him $4.5 million and giving his TAX FREE STATUS. I SMELL PORK BARREL

  18. chip isbell May 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    Folks like Mike D March 23 can only imagine Richmond being the center of the metro region. There is some mud in the back field areas but also many very very nice turf grass fields that are being utilized every evening by both adult and youth leagues. Chesterfieild is coming into its own and projects like this demonstrate that. We are ready and wanting of something of this nature. Why does it always have to be about Richmond? Once completed (if completed, not a die in the wool believer yet) we as Chesterfield residents will have a wonderful facility in our own back yard. No more 50 mile round trips and tolls to downtown Richmond after already having to pay them to get back and forth to work during the day. Today time is so very expensive and this facility being 10 minutes from a community hub in Chesterfield is priceless. Dr. Burton I wish you all the success with this endevor and once I see ground breaking on the west campus will probably sign up for the 1500 membership.

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