The Maryland SoccerPlex, once touted as a model for public-private partnerships in Montgomery County, has been in financial peril since it opened because it had a faulty business plan, according to a report by county planners.
The report, released yesterday to the County Council, says the SoccerPlex has been beleaguered by costs higher than anticipated and far less support from corporations and private donors than had been anticipated. Planners said the miscalculations forced the Maryland Soccer Foundation, formed in 1997 to construct and manage the SoccerPlex, to take on $14 million in debt, nearly triple what was projected.
"I equate it with someone who is having trouble paying off student loans," said Derick Berlage, the chairman of the Planning Board. "They have been barely meeting their monthly expenses and have not been able to get to the next stage of their life."
The complex's financial woes led to soccer players having to pay more to use the Boyds facility, planners said.
The cost issue is at the heart of an escalating feud between the county's largest soccer organization, Montgomery Soccer Inc., and one of the facility's biggest supporters, John Hendricks, who is chairman of Discovery Communications Inc.
In the late 1990s, Hendricks and his wife, Maureen, were instrumental in getting the SoccerPlex built. On Friday, they announced that they are donating $6 million to try to stabilize the SoccerPlex's finances.
But the leaders of some soccer organizations said yesterday that they think the Hendrickses are trying to take over soccer in the county.
"Instead of dealing with our concerns, the county appears to think it's just fine to turn this facility over to the Hendricks family and their employees and friends for their personal use," Leon Reed, president of Montgomery Soccer, said in an e-mail.
In August, Montgomery Soccer and five other soccer organizations -- Bethesda Soccer Club, Damascus Soccer Club, Potomac Soccer Association, Seneca Soccer Association and Washington International Soccer League -- launched a revolt when fees to use the SoccerPlex grew to $300 a game.
The organizations, which together represent 20,000 youth players, boycotted the first two weeks of the fall season. At the urging of county leaders, the organizations resumed play, but they are threatening to pull their games from the SoccerPlex in the spring if fees are not reduced.
The Hendrickses' donation includes $2.5 million for operating expenses as well as money to build five fields. It also will be used for scholarships and subsidies.
About $1 million from the donation will be for the creation of another league, the Soccer Association of Montgomery County, which John Hendricks said will play at the SoccerPlex even if other clubs go elsewhere.
Reed, whose organization represents 14,000 players, said the new league is an attempt by Hendricks "to take away [Montgomery Soccer's] soccer players" and put it out of business.
William Hurley, president of the Damascus Soccer Association, praised the Hendrickses' contribution, saying it all but assures that the 1,400 youth players whom his group represents will continue to play at the SoccerPlex.
The facility opened in 2000 after the Hendrickses and other Montgomery soccer parents raised $15 million from a variety of sources, including government-backed bonds. The county, at the urging of County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), and the state contributed $8 million for roads, parking and utilities.
Soccer clubs chipped in by assessing a $20-a-player annual charge, which officials promised could be dropped after the facility's first five years of operation.
According to the county report, between 2000 and 2004, the initial business plan called for about $4.4 million in revenue from fundraising, but only $3.7 million came in. The original business plan called for $5.2 million in sponsorship revenue, but the SoccerPlex received just $1.8 million, the planning report says.
Local soccer organizations contributed $602,000 in fees last year, more than twice as much as had been called for in the original business plan.
Council members, who are reluctant to have taxpayers subsidize the SoccerPlex's operating expenses, said the challenge is getting more private donations while ensuring that the public has access to the complex. "Mr. Hendricks has done a wonderful thing, but this a community resource, and we want to make sure it's available to a wide variety of groups," said council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large).