Net gain for county had better be substantial

Our View

July 26, 2011

County officials must proceed with extreme caution as a plan for a park and tennis center in Elkridge continues its halting journey.

The Howard County Tennis Patrons, the private group that has worked for five years to establish an 8,000-seat venue for professional tournaments, has not been able to come up with financing. Integral to the Patrons' $44 million plan for what would be Maryland's largest tennis facility is a 24-acre park surrounding it. During its year-long negotiation with the county on a long-term lease — which the group had to have in hand before it could shop around for a loan — the econmy continued to struggle.

The group has raised $1.3 million on its own, but has asked the county's help in securing the rest of money. County Executive Ken Ulman in turn asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to study the economic feasibility of the project and officials there agreed last month to do it.

Patrons president Art Tollick insists that the group's own studies guarantee success. However, the conventional wisdom says that a clean bill of health from the Statdium Authority will ease the minds of prospective lenders, who so far have been reluctant to back the project.

Even if the Stadium Authority gives it a thumbs-up, though, this is far from a forehand winner.

The recent county takeovers of the ill-conceived Belmont Conference Center and land in Lisbon once intended for a used car lot can't be doing the county's bond rating any good, and let's not forget the looming prospect of ballooning obligations to future county retirees.

With economic recovery nowhere in sight, county officials had better be sure of a big return before taking on a capital project that is, after all, optional.

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