January 31, 2003

Stadium plan details prove elusive

Main backer of $35 million Airway Heights dome won’t name investors, clarify past bankruptcies
Michael Guilfoil and Bill Morlin
 

Despite promoters’ enthusiasm, questions remain about a new domed stadium proposed for Airway Heights.

The ambitious $35 million project - tentatively named the Spokane Quest Sports and Convention Center - was unveiled last week during a gathering of the West Plains Business Association.

Since then, efforts to confirm details about the project’s financing and timetable have failed.

The stadium’s main proponent - Unters Lewis “Chuck” Love - is a former Spokane businessman who declared bankruptcy last year and has served time for theft.

Love, 49, signed a contract with the Kalispel Tribe to lease 20 acres next to the tribe’s Northern Quest casino. No money has changed hands, according to tribal executive David Bonga.

Love also signed contracts with Ramey Construction and OMS Architects, both of Spokane, to begin preliminary development. The dome’s foundation and shell would be designed and built by a subcontractor.

No other names appear on any of the dome contracts, and Love refuses to identify any partners. “My investors wish to remain anonymous at this point,” Love said Thursday, “and I’m going to respect their wishes.”

Love also declined to discuss his Oct. 4, 2002, bankruptcy filing, listing debts of $1.15 million, and earlier felony convictions for theft and check-bouncing.

“Nobody in the world is totally perfect,” Love said. “That’s spilt milk under the bridge.”

Bonga said Love approached the tribe last summer about leasing land for the project.

“I was told all the (building) permits were in place and that final funding was secured,” Bonga said.

Earlier this week, Theresa Oberdorfer, whom Love described as the dome’s marketing director, confirmed that building permits were in place.

Yet Airway Heights City Planner Steve Roberge, who has jurisdiction over the site, said his office has seen no dome-related architectural drawings or engineering plans, a prerequisite to issuing permits.

Building permits for a $35 million project would run about $250,000, according to Airway Heights building inspector Rudy Torres.

Oberdorfer also told the newspaper that the dome would open in January 2004, and that she’s accepting tentative bookings. “We’re talking to the (NBA Seattle) Sonics, because they always sell out the (12,000-seat Spokane) Arena,” she said.

When asked about the optimistic construction timetable - building a Tacoma Dome-sized structure in nine months, assuming the permitting process goes smoothly - Love explained, “You have to understand that the technology for this thing is totally different. I understand the technology.”

So does David South, who pioneered the technique, and is president of the Texas-based Monolithic Dome Institute. “Twenty-four months sounds more reasonable,” South said.

The process involves building a ring-shaped foundation, then inflating a ceiling form above it and spraying a three-inch layer of concrete beneath the inflated membrane.

The proposed Airway Heights project would be 500 to 550 feet in diameter, making it almost four times larger than any other dome built using the sprayed-roof technique.

Love has communicated with an Idaho Falls company that designs and builds domes using South’s technique, but no contract has been signed.

As for securing financing, Love predicted he will have an announcement in two weeks.

Meanwhile, Ramey Construction and OMS Architects are moving ahead, albeit slowly.

“The construction contract is signed,” said company president Randall Ramey, “but it’s contingent upon funding being approved. We have not seen any money.”

Ramey declined to identify any backers of the proposed dome besides Love, but characterized his dealings with them as “honorable.”

“From the information I have and the due diligence that we’ve done, we feel that it’s going to move forward,” said Ramey.

OMS Architects principal Scott Somers echoed Ramey’s confidence.

“From when we started on this project two months ago, all we’ve done is move forward,” Somers said.

Neither Somers nor Ramey was familiar with Love’s bankruptcy history or his criminal record.

When Love filed for bankruptcy last October, he listed 46 creditors, including the IRS, the Washington Department of Corrections, the state Employment Security Department, several attorneys and more than two dozen local businesses.

Love most recently did business as Acme Powder Coating Inc., 1104 N. Park Road. That business no longer is open.

A decade ago, Love was convicted in King County Superior Court of first-and second-degree theft and three counts of unlawful issuance of bank checks. State Department of Corrections records indicate Love served time in prison, but do not specify how much.

Asked whether his recent bankruptcy, along with another filed in 1999 for unspecified debts, was affecting his ability to secure financing for the Airway Heights dome, Love said, “The project’s credibility stands on its own. It’s going up. Anything else is moot and old hat.”

But by the middle of this week, architect Somers was putting a more cautious spin on the dome’s chances.

“We’ve been on many multimillion-dollar projects where you go through the initial studies, work with clients on schematic designs and then have the whole thing fall apart. Some of them go, some of them don’t.

“But without doing this initial study, you can’t get lending,” said Somers. “Everybody needs some ideas put on paper before a project even starts.”

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