Bell Bank Park

Bell Bank Park has seen more than 4.3 visitors since it opened a little more than a year ago, but its owners have defaulted on the terms of a $280 million loan. (Visit Mesa/Submitted)

A year after Bell Bank Park opened to great expectations, the park has hosted hundreds of thousands visitors and reported 4.3 million individual visits in Mesa, but it remains under a dark financial cloud since defaulting on the terms of its loan in October.

The profits the park was expected to generate never materialized, putting its owner’s ability to make loan payments on the $280 million in tax-free municipal bonds that financed it in jeopardy.

Most recently, Legacy Cares missed a $10 million payment due Jan. 1, and it still owes contractors $30 million in back payments for the park’s construction.

The project’s cash is down to $22 million left in a reserve fund for loan payments, leaving questions for some about how Legacy Cares has spent $260 million on its development.

After Legacy Cares missed a January deadline to submit an audited financial report for fiscal year 2022, the public remains in the dark.

What all this financial doom and gloom will ultimately mean for users at the 320-acre park is unclear but a recent court filing, hints that a management change could be coming.

What that means is the possible removal of Randy Miller and his sons – who conceived of the park, drove its construction and run Legacy Sports, the for-profit entity that manages the park for nonprofit Legacy Cares.

In online reviews, users have criticized the park’s management for poor execution. A league owner said he is taking his business to another venue after a disappointing experience last year.

After Bell Bank Park started to flounder financially, Chad Miller, the CEO of Legacy Sports, and other managers insisted in calls with bondholders and interviews that COVID had caused the park to underperform.

But those assertions are at odds with statements Legacy made in a May podcast with Visit Mesa, when they said that COVID had lifted demand for youth sports travel and helped the facility book events through 2022.

People would “do anything to make sure their kids were taken care of or in sports,” Chad Miller said at the time.

“You also saw a lot of people coming in from California to Arizona to still compete in tournaments” amid continued uncertainty in some states on reopening guidelines, he said.

The revelation that Bell Bank Park’s creditors are eyeing a management change came in a monthly status update for Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dewain Fox filed by an attorney for Okland Construction, the construction manager for the park’s vertical buildings.

Okland filed a lien against the Bell Bank Park property in May for $25 million in unpaid bills.

After Legacy Cares defaulted on its bonds in October, Okland and other lien holders began talks with Legacy Cares and senior bondholders to delay foreclosure proceedings while the park’s owner figured tried to come up with the money it owes.

State law grants contractors the power to force foreclosure to collect unpaid bills, a process that could complicate Bell Bank Park’s efforts to secure new financing.

In November, a judge ordered the lien holders to suspend new filings until Jan. 31, buying Bell Bank Park time to arrange a prospective $400 million in new bonds.

In Okland’s January update to the court, the company said it has been told that Bell Bank Park’s refinancing plan with Chicago-based investment bank Loop Capital “remains likely to close and should generate funds sufficient to pay contractor and subcontractor claims.”

But Okland attorney James Csontos also explained at length that his clients understood the plan to be contingent on a management change at the facility.

“The senior bondholders, who are likely purchasers of new bonds, are expected to require management changes to improve the performance of the complex,” Csontos wrote.

Before Bell Bank Park opened, Legacy Sports entered into a partnership with global venue development and investment company Oak View Group to negotiate naming rights and manage the park once it opened.

Oak View Group manages many high-profile arenas, stadiums, amphitheaters and other venues. Locally, OVG manages Hohokam Stadium and Sloan Park in Mesa, and Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. 

OVG’s website does not currently list Bell Bank Park as a venue it operates.

Csontos wrote in the January filing, “It is presumed that the Oak View Group will reassume a greater amount of responsibility (for Bell Bank Park). This shift is believed to increase the marketability of the bonds needed to fund the refinance.”

If OVG is managing the park, and the nonprofit Legacy Cares needed to access the municipal bond market, that leaves the Miller’s for-profit Legacy Sports cut out of the park.

Chad Miller did not respond to a request for comment.

Long-time Bell Bank Park watcher and Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblower Stephen Griffin told the Tribune that in municipal bond defaults, a “hornet’s nest of litigation” can ensue when the existing managers of a project do not want to leave.

Legacy Sports’ 40-year management agreement with Legacy Cares contains a long section on the termination of the agreement, and it appears to give Legacy Sports a generous payout for termination under certain conditions.

Csontos said in his report that Okland is “skeptical” a refinancing deal will come to fruition.

He noted that Legacy Cares originally aimed to go before the Arizona Industrial Development Authority Board of Directors to request the new round of bonds in November, but that has been delayed several months, most recently in January.

Legacy Cares is now gunning for AZIDA’s Feb. 16 meeting, he said.

But the stay of foreclosure proceedings for Legacy’s lien holders expired Jan. 31, and Okland is hedging its bets.

“While we understand that the (refinancing) transaction continues to move forward,” Csontos told the Tribune, “we intend to move forward aggressively with the foreclosure litigation in the meantime.

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