FDLE investigates if Big League Dreams negotiations were legal

$22M complex planned to be built in Middleburg

Author: Alicia Booth, Reporter, abooth@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 19 2014 04:26:03 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 19 2014 08:24:36 PM EST
Commission considers Big League Dreams
CLAY COUNTY, Fla. -

Some Clay County residents are crying foul about a plan to build a multimillion dollar ballpark and sports complex in Middleburg, and now the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirms it's looking into complaints that negotiations about the deal have not been entirely legal.

A public meeting about the deal was held in Orange Park on Wednesday, but there have been complaints saying some of the talks have been behind closed doors.

Big League Dreams is the name of the plan for the sports complex that would cost about $22 million.

The county has already set aside $19 million for the governor-appointed Clay County Development Authority to oversee building it.

The complex would go up in a field in Middleburg and promises to draw lots of people and, most importantly, revenue to Clay County.

That money which would eventually be shared between Big League Dreams and the county.

But right away, Green Cove resident and car salesman Joe Riley said he smelled something fishy.

"I looked harder into the Big League Dreams project and saw that it kind of just appeared out of nowhere," Riley said.

He feels strongly that contract negotiations were going on behind closed doors, which is illegal under the Florida Sunshine Law.

"What concerns me is the shadiness of the entire operation," Riley said.

As a result, he filed several complaints about a lack of public records. One of his complaints resulted in an investigative report from the FDLE. It confirms the agency is looking into the allegations and will report its findings to the state attorney's office.

However, a spokeswoman for the office said in a statement, "The State Attorney's Office does not confirm or deny an active criminal investigation."

Late Wednesday, a staff consultant for the Clay County Development Authority vehemently denied any wrongdoing on the authority's part.

"Anything that has happened with this project up to this point has happened in the sunshine and CCDA board meeting or committee meeting," staff consultant Kerri Stewart said.

As the subject of the sports complex is debated openly, Riley said he will continue to raise serious questions about how the CCDA is doing business.

"We have a right by law to know what our county commissioners, elected or appointed officials are doing when it comes to taxpayer funds or anything else," he said.