Owners slash price on Plex in NE Richland

Group hopes Sandhill complex can keep mission

10/24/2012 12:00 AM

10/23/2012 11:10 PM

The owners of Plex Indoor Sports, the Columbia area’s first indoor sports complex, are aggressively marketing the property at a reduced price.

The group of physicians that opened the complex in Northeast Richland’s Village at Sandhill eight years ago has never made a profit, said Patrick Palmer, a real estate broker with NAI Avant who is marketing the property. A second location near Irmo is not for sale, he said.

“The owners have had to make capital contributions every year,” Palmer said. “While they still love the work they began here in Columbia, they can no longer continue to feed the business financially.”

The $4.8 million asking price – down from $5.5 million when it went on the market four months ago – is an attempt, Palmer said, to encourage a local purchase of the 86,000-square-foot soccer, hockey, skateboard, volleyball and lacrosse complex by someone who would continue its operation as a sports plex.

That outcome is largely not assured, however, and the facility could be turned into a call center or light industrial operation, Palmer said.

A group of local physicians, businessmen and community leaders – some of whom have since moved from the area – founded the Plex in 2004 and remodeled it in 2007. In 2009, the operation expanded to Irmo, a location with an ice skating rink. That property, acquired for $1.5 million, is not up for sale, Palmer said, and attracts 500,000 annual user visits a year.

The Plex at Village at Sandhill attracts an average of 700,000 annual user visits, according to company advertisements.

Though the Sandhill property has only been on the open real estate market for four months, the owners had tried unsuccessfully to sell the property to the city of Columbia, Richland County, and the Richland County Recreation Commission, Palmer said.

“We cannot afford the price they wanted,” said Richland County Recreation commissioner Wes Furgess, who said he spoke with Palmer when approached about the commission purchasing the Plex.

The Plex includes two regulation-size indoor soccer fields with inlaid grass, an inline hockey field, skateboard park, 7,500-square-foot family fun area and two regulation-size basketball and volleyball courts. Wellness programs, after school care and a large number of tournament competitions are regularly featured at the facility.

And though the complex positively impacts area hotels, restaurants and shops, Palmer said interest has been slow to rise.

Heavy taxation is the main reason Palmer said the physician group, led by Mike Harris, has been unable to make the operation profitable. If the Plex could partner with a municipality or a nonprofit organization, he said, it could continue in its beneficiary community role.

But the owners, including a group of investors, will entertain anything from an outright sale of the facility to a lease/purchase agreement.

Unlike most businesses in the Village at Sandhill, the Plex owns the land and building it occupies, rather than leasing from Kahn Development Co.

“This gives them, or whoever owns the site, the ability to make decisions unilaterally about what will happen to the site with no landlord-type approvals necessary,” Palmer said.

But some restrictions will apply, according to Kahn Development.

“We would be very cooperative with them,” said Alan Kahn, president of Kahn Development Co., “but the Village is designed to be synergistic with uses that are compatible with a first-class, mixed use development. That is the general thrust of whatever we have. We have a master declaration for all site owners in the Village.”

Kahn said the Plex brings a lot of people and jobs to the Village, and that the complex has been a good neighbor.

“They’re a wonderful, wonderful operation,” he said.

County zoning ordinances also likely will affect what happens at the Sandhill Plex site.

Zoned C-3 Intense Commercial and C-1 Office, Palmer said adaptive re-uses of the property could include a call center, or possibly with a zoning change, some form of industrial operation.

The owners’ first dream, though, remains that the facility continue as a health and wellness venue for the community, Palmer said, accommodating activities from daily after school care to indoor sports leagues.

“It is rare in my business to find owners who are not interested in the almighty dollar, but instead put their money where their heart is, and these guys have,” he said.

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