On Monday, it looked like a near certainty that Louisville was going to get a $45 million baseball/softball complex, a tourism and economic development home run.

Today, four days later, the deal is dead, and Jim Wood said he still can’t believe what happened.

“We’re still kind of scratching our heads about it,” said Wood, president and CEO of the Greater Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Since last July, CVB officials had been negotiating with Cooperstown Dreams Park in Cooperstown, N.Y., owned by Lou Presutti, to build a Nations Park baseball complex just east of Louisville near Finchville.

The complex, estimated to cost about $45 million, would have had 50 ball diamonds.

To get it built, Wood said, CVB officials and local leaders had worked eight months to try and meet all of Presutti’s terms, going so far as to submit House Bill 417 to get legislative support for dedicating some transient room tax revenue to help guarantee financing for part of the project.

“We’d dedicate bed tax into it, and they’d put capital in and manage it,” Wood said of the initial agreement.

With tentative support from the community, including Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Council leadership, the two parties had a term sheet – a specific proposal on how the deal would get done, Wood said. “We had real estate in place. We’d agreed on financial incentives.”

But on Wednesday, Presutti and his three partners countered with a totally different proposal, Wood said.

The Nations Park point person in negotiations was Todd Hines, Wood said. “The real estate person on their team that we worked with was Jeff Cernuto.”

After Hines rejected the deal, Hines, Cernuto and Presutti submitted their own term sheet.

“They said, ‘We have a better idea. We want you to build it out. We’ll manage it,’ ” Wood said. “As crazy as that sounds, that’s accurate.”

Presutti declined to declare the Louisville project dead, though he said the deal is less likely to happen now than it was at the beginning of the week.

Presutti also declined to discuss the deal in detail, only saying that “we need some individuals to step up … to get this through all the bureaucracy. Everyone is making a gallant effort to work our way through it.”

In addition to Cooperstown, the group has two parks opening this year, one in Mooresville, N.C. and another in Gainesville, Fla., Presutti said. He’s made presentations to 26 cities in 12 states, he added.

But some cities have voiced concerns. Last April, Jeffersonville, Ind. city officials ended negotiations with Presutti, stating that Nations Parks executives wouldn’t let them review financial information, according to Business First.

Wood said Nations Park is a strong brand, and that the Cooperstown facility Presutti created is so popular it turns away 4,000 teams each year.

In Louisville, the park could have created 1055 jobs, Wood said. “It made good sense for a minor investment. The transient room tax … wouldn’t have impacted anyone in Louisville and would have had lots of economic impact.”

But Wood said the CVB can’t finance the entire project. “Our budget can’t be compromised because it guarantees the bond on the (Kentucky International) Convention Center. We can’t spend $45 million, but we pledged a good part of that,” he said.

“It’s the right franchise, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t the right deal for them.”

The details: According to a Courier-Journal story in January, CVB officials paid University of Louisville economics and demographics professor Dr. Paul Coomes to do an economic-impact analysis of the 50-field Nations Parks  project.

Coomes projected the park would
* generate  $98.8 million per year in spending on hotels, restaurants and other retail.
* create demand for about 180,000 hotel and motel rooms each year.
* create 50 full-time staff jobs and about 750 part-time summer jobs and several hundred other jobs in support industries.

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Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.

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