HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP — By 2012, the Geneva Area Recreational, Educational and Athletic Trust Sports Complex — rebranded in 2011 as Spire Institute — had grown by leaps and bounds. But so had its debt.
Initial development began in 2008, and its main, 215,000 square-foot building opened the following year. A 240,000 square-foot indoor track and field building and nine-acre outdoor stadium both opened in 2010. Its almost 300,000 square-foot Aquatics Center opened in late 2012 with an eatery, fitness area and elite training center.
By tax year 2010, Spire's property valuation was at about $18.2 million, according to the county auditor's office. By tax year 2013, the value reached about $56 million. At that point, it owed $2.3 million in back taxes as it awaited a charitable exemption from the state.
In October 2011 — while the Aquatics Center was still under construction — several subcontractors began filing what amounted to $8.5 million in mechanics liens against Spire owner Roni Lee LLC, for unpaid work and materials.
Spire officials at the time cited financing problems.
On the operations side, tax filings from 2013 and 2014 show the GAREAT nonprofit "had insufficient funds to pay its operating expenses and, as such, has had to borrow money from its board members to pay its bills."
Those same filings also show the banquet facility, part of Spire's indoor track and field building, operated at a loss from 2011 to 2014, ultimately totaling about $413,000. It reported a loss of about $86,000 in 2015.
The Spire contractors' loss of anticipated revenues drove some of the companies to the brink of bankruptcy.
“We’re hanging by our bare fingernails,” David Nolan, owner of Nolan Door and Hardware in Austinburg, told the Star Beacon at the time — his company was owed about $251,000 and struggled to stay in business.
"It's not been easy and we've had to do some unorthodox things with our suppliers," he said.
Nolan's company was one of several subcontractors included in the total $8.5 million lien filed by contractor Hughes Roller Building Co. of Ashtabula.
Other lien-filing companies included: HAVE Inc., of Ashtabula, owed $1,031,767; Detrick Industrial Piping of Ashtabula, owed $850,982; JW Precision Interiors of Rock Creek, owed $812,000; and D&R Carpet of Brooklyn Heights, owed $408,177 in labor costs — which was not party to the Hughes Roller lien.
Other vendors filed liens but have not been named by the Star Beacon.
“We didn’t object to the contractors filing liens on the project,” Spire CEO Ron Clutter said in 2012. “It was necessary and appropriate for them to protect their position, and we supported that while we jointly developed a plan for finishing the work.”
An agreement reached months later in 2012 ultimately repaid those subcontractors under the Hughes Roller lien in full by 2015, and contractors eventually returned to work in 2012.
Details of the agreement were confidential, but Stuart Cordell, Spire's attorney in 2012, said the source of the repayments was local.
Tax records show Clutter alone poured close to $45 million of his outside money into GAREAT in 2012. Other Spire board members donated smaller amounts that year: Richard Selip loaned $900,000; Widd Raymond loaned $60,000.
Two of the aforementioned subcontractors appear to have closed, though it's unclear when or if it was related to Spire's nonpayment.
One lien-filing contractor, HAVE Inc., still does HVAC maintenance work at Spire Institute, said George Csepegi, former president.
He said HAVE Inc. used "backup money" to stay afloat in the four years between the lien filing and repayment. All Hughes Roller subcontractors included in the liens were paid in full for the lien amounts, as well as their materials and labor, even interest and attorney fees, he said.
"It took four years to do it, and it's better than a foreclosure," Csepegi said. "During that four years, we still continued to work for them to keep them open and we still work for them now. They pay us as good as any.
"They're doing a great job up there. It's good for the area. I hope they can get it all together and I hope they get over their tax problems."
It should be noted that Csepegi only recently retired as head of HAVE, Inc., turning the company over to co-owners Robert Schimmelpfennig, Ashtabula County Port Authority board president, and Ric Selip, a current Spire board member.
Matt Conway, current president of Hughes Roller along Aetna Road in Ashtabula, said the settlement agreement reached in 2012 bars him from talking about the money the company received, but also asserted it was the full amount.
The business has not had contact with Spire since the settlement was paid, Conway said. He said he feels the Spire liens made it appear the building company had folded — but not so. He's looking forward to the future.
"It's all kind of water over the dam at this point," he said. "It's in the past."
Follow Justin Dennis on Twitter @justindennis.