OUR VIEW: UTPB is not the villain

The point: Field of dreams turns to a hot mess as negotiations end with no agreement.

There is an age-old saying: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

That adage must be swimming around in the collective minds of leadership at the University of Texas Permian Basin and the University of Texas System amid a dust up over public-access sports fields on UTPB’s campus.

At issue is a soon-to-expire 25-year lease agreement between UTPB at the City of Odessa for public use of a soccer and softball complex on the eastern edge of the university’s campus.

The university has been unable to reach agreement with the City for some sort of contract extension that meets the policy and legal requirements of the UT System. And they formally and politely informed the City that the lease agreement expires Aug. 31.

Now, leaders of local “nonprofit” youth soccer and softball associations are howling “FOUL!” and have been hell-bent on trying to paint the university as a villain, kicking out thousands of youngsters who play on the fields practically every week.

Well, we’re going to throw a flag, blow our whistle and penalize the associations’ representatives 15 yards for BS (and we don’t mean bachelor of science).

Here’s the deal, folks:

A quarter of a century ago, when the land in question was nothing but hard-scrabbled scrub pretty much in the middle of nowhere, the university entered into an agreement with the City to allow the municipality to develop the land into a type of public park, featuring sports amenities for all to enjoy. In return, the City – the “lessee” — was to pay UTPB an annual rental fee of $1. The city had the option of paying the fee all at once and up front ($25), which it apparently did. The agreement also specified that as part of the rental arrangement, UTPB was to receive 10 percent “of the gross proceeds from all commercial activities (except food and beverage sales) conducted on the Leased Premises by Lessee, its agents, contractors, and sublessees.”

Enter the associations. Under some arrangement with the City, they turned up as somewhat of a sublessee. Whether this was approved in writing by UTPB as required under the agreement is unclear at this point. But the land was developed into a prime sports complex, which the associations ultimately controlled with an iron fist. Although the complex is supposed to be open to any member of the public, signs have been erected on portions of the property warning all that the softball complex is “for use only by the OGSA.” All others keep out. Mind you, UTPB did not erect these signs and is scratching its institutional head as to who exactly did. There have even been reports of people who have been run off the fields by individuals not affiliated with either the university or the City. And some outside tournaments have been held at the site, supposedly subcontracted out. Once again, this was apparently done by neither the City nor the university.

One could argue that what was once worthless land has now been making someone money like a basement printing press.

Now, as already noted, the university was likely paid the $1-a-year rental fee up front way back when. But for the last 25 years, no one can point to a single instance in which the university has received a single penny of rental as part of the 10 percent requirement specified in the lease. That’s a ton of money, folks.

Association representatives argue they are not liable for the 10 percent fee because they are nonprofits and thus not engaged in “commercial activity.” But if they have subcontracted the fields out to other outside groups, the argument could be made they very well did engage in commercial activity and are therefore liable for some sort of payments.

And by the way, if they are using the argument that they are exempt because they are a nonprofit, then their financial records are public information. And anyone should be allowed, by law, to review those records to see where all the money has gone all these years.

All we know is that for all its good intentions, the university has pretty much received nothing all these years, except a lot of undeserved misery of late.

The university had proposed a new agreement designed to meet UT System requirements, which includes ensuring the system is receiving compensation for use of the land that is tied to its fair market value. The proposal calls for:

1. The City of Odessa’s investment to maintain the fields (which is required under the current contract).

2. Fees from local associations that would be minimized through City support.

3. Financial support from outside tournaments.

The proposal notes that achieving the plan would require UTPB to centrally manage the finances, operations, and scheduling of the fields. Wow! The university owns that land. Why shouldn’t they have the right to do just that?

By the way, the associations would still be allowed to play on the fields. They just wouldn’t be controlling something that really isn’t theirs.

Where it all stands now is that Mayor Javier Joven has taken a “let’s move on” approach, saying that he plans to propose a bond issue to fund construction of a City sports complex, something we suspect probably should have been done years ago.

Meantime, Odessans need to keep something top of mind as all of this plays out.

Really, there are only two victims in all of this.

The thousands of well-meaning kids and parents who have paid to the associations lots of money to play a sport they love.