Since we are still involved in two active lawsuits with the Township, we can’t go into too many specifics, but the following is a brief overview of the situation from our standpoint.
In 1997, the Club negotiated the purchase of the Thornbury property from Russell Jones, the original owner. Before closing on the purchase, the Manager and the Chairman of the Board for the Township contacted the soccer club requesting that we allow the Township to purchase the property and provide the Club a long-term lease.
In 1997, the Club and the Township signed a 99-year lease, allowing the Club to construct the soccer fields and the clubhouse at TSP, as long as we fully maintained the property and used TSP for soccer-related purposes. The lease also obligated the Club to pay $2,500 in annual rent. In 2005, the Club and the Township signed a second agreement acknowledging that the lease remained in full force and effect.
No significant disputes arose until late 2015, when the Township, under new supervision, sent an inspector to the clubhouse. The inspector observed some code violations, which the Club promptly fixed. In addition, for the first time, the Township advised the Club that the clubhouse should not be used by the Club as offices for its staff (even though there is no such prohibition in the lease), and that the Club is not permitted to rent the premises to third parties (even though there is no such prohibition in the lease).
In our view, the Township had some legitimate initial concerns regarding the code infractions pertaining to the clubhouse. But once these were brought to our attention, we took immediate action, and addressed or remedied all of their concerns.
While their complaints have been masked with charges of breach, the crux of the issue stems from the Township’s desire to decrease the length of the 99-year lease AND increase our annual rental payments by thousands of dollars. The Township has admitted that the office use would be acceptable, and the Club would be permitted to upgrade the clubhouse into more professional office space, but only if the Club agreed to substantially increase the annual rent payment AND agreed to shorten the lease term from the current remaining 80 years to no more than six years.
To avoid any ongoing issues, in 2016 the Club secured office space and moved the staff into new offices, discontinuing the use of the clubhouse as office space. We still use the clubhouse for warehousing, storage and concessions, which the Township does not dispute. We also offered to substantially increase the amount of annual rent we pay, but would not agree to shorten the length of the lease, since that has been previously agreed and reaffirmed by all parties. We also offered to build a pavilion and walking trails on the property as an added benefit for the Township and local community.
The Township did not respond to our offer but instead filed a lawsuit against the Club. In the lawsuit, the Township argued that they had no authority to enter into a 99-year lease in the first place, despite signing it and despite reaffirming it in 2005. In response, the Club filed a countersuit. To date, both complaints are moving forward toward trial.
In July 2018, the Club again offered to abandon the use of the clubhouse as office space in exchange for dropping the lawsuit. We received a one-line response from the Township rejecting our offer while providing no counter offer.
Since our last offer, the judge overseeing the case has ruled in our favor, claiming that the Township had the legal authority to enter a 99-year lease, and that the Township has no right to cancel it. Given that all of the Township’s claims have either been remedied or ruled against, we feel their suit is completely baseless and nothing more than an attempt to extract more money from the Club by forcing the Club to incur legal expenses in defending against the lawsuit.
Since 1998 the Club (actually the parents of all the players that have gone through Club programs) has invested approximately $1.5 million in developing, maintaining, and improving the TSP complex. The Township pays nothing to maintain the TSP complex. The TSP complex remains a vital club and community asset that we feel is worth protecting.