2011-12-14 / Front Page

SportsQuest moving forward, CEO says

Founder Steve Burton blames delays on funding
By Donna C. Gregory
SENIOR WRITER

SportsQuest’s west campus on Genito Road is finally moving forward with the backing of an unnamed local developer, according to SportsQuest founder and CEO Steve Burton. The developer will close on 57 acres of land on Genito Road across from the east campus “any day now,” Burton said.

The developer plans to build a commercial project there, including shops, restaurants and a hotel. The remaining land will be used for SportsQuest’s new sports, aquatics and fitness center.

Burton declined to name the developer, saying the company will make its own announcement after the closing.

Burton gave an update on the west campus during a Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission meeting earlier this month. Some PRAC members had requested a presentation because construction seemed to have stalled on Sports- Quest’s east and west campuses.

“I think anybody who is using the facility [on the east campus] knew that the entrance on Genito Road wasn’t finished, and the bathrooms weren’t open until just recently,” explained Mike Golden, director of the Chesterfield Parks and Recreation Department. “We were anxious to get the restrooms done and get the entrance done because we have people coming in for tournaments.”

During the PRAC meeting, Burton admitted construction has been delayed.

“The local investment community has been cautious to work with us,” Burton explained. “What we’ve faced is having to seek out partners and investors outside the community. It has taken about a year longer than I expected.”

Burton initially planned to open a sports, aquatics and fitness center on the west campus by the end of this year. He now anticipates it will open by Jan. 1, 2013.

About 1,500 SportsQuest members are currently using fitness facilities at the RISE building on Oak Lake Boulevard.

“They’ve been patient, waiting for us to turn our attention back [to the center],” Burton said.

SportsQuest’s partnership with the county also slowed progress on the west campus, he said. Last year, the county entered a $4.3 million agreement to lease several of SportsQuest’s athletic fields and facilities. According to Burton, the county made the funding available as a construction draw instead of it coming from the general fund. That meant the money had to be used to build the fields instead of being spent on SportsQuest’s operational costs. “It’s been hard on some vendors because we asked them to hold back some of their bills,” Burton said.

Last September, South Dakota sign company Daktronics filed a lawsuit against SportsQuest, claiming it hadn’t been paid for the scoreboard it installed on the east campus. Other vendors have also complained about slow payment, according to Richmond BizSense, an online news source.

“We’re working [the financial difficulties] through,” Burton said during a phone interview last week. “It’s always a challenge to convey your vision to others.”

The east campus bathrooms are now open, and turn lanes are being installed at the Genito Road entrance.

The county’s agreement with SportsQuest includes the use of gym space at the sports, aquatics and fitness center. It also includes designating 10,000 square feet of space on SportsQuest’s west campus for a senior center. Golden said the opening date of the senior center has been pushed to September 2013.

SportsQuest Academy

Burton also updated PRAC members on the SportsQuest Academy. About two dozen students, ages 13-19, make up the academy’s first class.

“It’s like a private boarding school for sports,” Burton explained.

On weekdays, students train in basketball from about 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with breaks for lunch and a study hall. Then they attend classes at Clover Hill High School from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

About two-thirds of the students come from the U.S., including St. Louis, Philadelphia and Seattle. The other third are international students, hailing from the Republic of Serbia, France, England, Spain and other countries.

“They came to us by international recruiters who were interested in sports training,” Burton explained. “All of them have a goal to extend their basketball playing career. Some have sight of college, and some have a sight of pros.”

Ron Maxey, PRAC chairman, asked if anyone can attend the academy.

“It is not a talent-based program,” Burton responded. “It is a passion-based program. A lot of them just love basketball, and they’d love to play in college.”

The academy’s annual tuition is $39,000. “It’s just like a private boarding school,” Burton said. “Parents pay tuition, but we have some scholarships that are available. Some of the scholarship funds are from local businesses … and other funds come from sponsors.”

He hopes to grow enrollment to 100 students next fall.

Current students live in dorms at Independence Golf Club. Their basketball training is held at Richmond Volleyball Club off Staples Mill Road. Students will live and train on the west campus once it’s completed.

“One of the elements of the west campus will be dormitories and what I call the athlete village,” Burton said. “We’re doing plans for that right now.”

Academic classes are held after hours at Clover Hill, taught by teachers contracted by SportsQuest. “We have a blended curriculum of online and live instruction,” Burton said.

The online component allows students to continue their academics when they are competing out of town.

“All too often the traditional school model doesn’t allow the sports participation you need at the elite level,” Burton said. “By having this program, we can ensure that the sports participation doesn’t get in the way of academic achievement.”

The academy is limited to basketball this year, but there are plans to expand to baseball and two other unnamed sports next fall. The east campus currently has one baseball field and one softball field, but Burton hopes to expand that number by spring.

Mike Goff, a former professional baseball player and player development coach for the Seattle Mariners, will head up SportsQuest’s baseball and softball training program.

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