New boss calls Mesa mega-park ‘set up for success’ |

Scott Shumaker, Tribune Staff Writer
8 Min Read

Mike Burke, the new chief of the 320-acre Arizona Athletic Grounds – formerly Legacy Park, formerly Bell Bank Park – isn’t wasting any time after coordinating the facility’s purchase out of bankruptcy.

Burke is president of AZ Athletic Associates, the entity that bought the youth-sports facility with financial backing from Rocky Mountain Resources, a private investment company that specializes in natural resources and sports assets.

“I’m at the grounds today,” he said in a recent interview with the Tribune, “and I’ll be here seven days a week for the foreseeable future to build out a culture of excellence focused on the guest experience.”

A former wrestler, runner and Philadelphia native still loyal to his native city’s sports teams, Burke said he enjoys “being around high-performance athletes.”

He still runs; Burke said he put in a 5K before the morning interview.

Dressed in a puffy vest and a black baseball cap and sporting a neatly trimmed goatee, Burke says he has been working round-the-clock since the sale officially closed Dec. 14.

At $25.5 million, the price tag was probably as low as it could go, as a sale needed at minimum to settle the mechanics liens held by unpaid contractors, who were collectively owed about $25 million in unpaid bills.

The trades workers, under master contractor Okland, will receive $19 million from the sale.

Bondholders, who financed the park with $284 million in municipal bonds sold through the Arizona Industrial Development Authority, will receive just $2.4 million plus an 11% stake in the AZ Athletic Associates.

Burke indicated that AZ Athletic Associates and Rocky Mountain Resources are ready to invest resources into enhancing the massive multisport facility and making it profitable.

“We have complete runway with financial support and ownership support to get there,” Burke said.

Now out of bankruptcy, the park is “set up for success,” he said.

As part of the purchase process, Burke renegotiated operating leases to trim the facility’s expenses. The sale eliminated the park’s debt service payments as well as the cost of litigation.

Burke said AZ Athletic Associates has also secured rights to build a hotel and dormitory for athletes on the property from landowner Pacific Proving.

On-site lodging is potentially a game-changer because it would allow the park to host bigger and more high-profile events, he said. Burke estimated a hotel and dormitory would take one to three years.

On future investments like these, Burke said that AZ Athletic Associates is working closely with Pacific Proving, which holds the land beneath the Arizona Athletic Grounds as well as large parcels surrounding the property.

There is “a really nice, synergistic partnership” with Pacific Proving, he said, which has “provided valuable assistance in keeping this facility open during a turbulent two-year period.”

Pacific Proving collects rent from Arizona Athletic Grounds, but its stake in the park goes beyond lease payments because a successful sports park could increase the value of all the surrounding land, much of it owned by Pacific Proving.

Pacific Proving contributed $6 million of the sale price to satisfy creditors as well as provide emergency funding to keep the park operating over a month beyond the expiration of its debtor-in-possession financing.

Burke said part of his focus is setting a goal of giving every Arizona Athletic Grounds visitor a “five-star” experience.

“I know there’s an enormous amount of cleanup that needs to take place on that front,” he said. “We need exceptional food and beverage. We don’t want people to have to drive 5, 10 miles down the road for lunch.”

“Parking, ingress, egress, Wi-Fi, cellular, food, beverage, retailing – it all needs to be cleaned up, and it’s all in process … It’s going to be an amazing community asset,” he added.

Burke works in finance, but he says he’s not the type to bury himself in an office far from a project.

“What I really love is parachuting in, operating day-to-day and being ingrained in the operations,” he said.

This rebranded office at the old Legacy Park is Mike Burke’s new home away from home as he works to make the re-christened Arizona Athletic Grounds a destination sports facility.

He ended up at the helm of Arizona Athletic Grounds in part because he’s gravitated toward “more complex and restructuring-oriented transactions.”

“I’ve made my career in these complex situations where there’s too much debt and cross-defaulted agreement and things that just don’t make sense,” he said.

Most recently he worked at a private equity fund called White Oak based in San Francisco, where he said he became the youngest partner and co-founded the Complex Investments Group.

It’s a good pedigree for taking over southeast Mesa’s mega sports park because nothing was simple about its emergence from bankruptcy.

The sale had to satisfy numerous creditors and making a full accounting of the park’s assets was challenging because it comprised hundreds of use agreements and sponsorship deals.

During the bankruptcy proceedings, it was revealed that many amenities were leased by Legacy Cares and not owned.

Burke said the 320-acre park came to his attention in January 2023, when he was looking for “interesting acquisition opportunities” after striking out on his own in 2022 with Burke Operating Partners.

The park was in default of its loan obligations but still four months away from filing for bankruptcy.

Burke was intrigued.

“From day one, week one, I could see how incredible this complex could be,” he said. “It’s fair to say there’s not a comparable complex within 1,000 miles, and even across the United States or across all of North America, the list of comparable facilities is very small – 10, maybe 20.”

Burke said he is working on acquiring the park since before it filed for bankruptcy.

“I spent pretty much the entirety of my waking professional hours trying to close on this transaction and getting very close to the business,” he said.

The work included understanding the “pain points.”

After more than a year of dour headlines about its finances, the rechristened sports facility may need to woo tournaments and leagues that were put off by the park’s opening drama.

For Burke, who mentions that he once ran a 4:17 mile, the starting gun has gone off. 

Scott Shumaker, Tribune Staff Writer

2024-01-08 07:00:00 , ""news"" – Vivrr Local

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