Harrison County

Businessman in skate park deal arrested, but officials did very little vetting beforehand

The former Harrison County Skate Park facility on DeBuys Road in Biloxi is empty once again on Wednesday after the county evicted the latest tenant, the Coast Athletic Club.
The former Harrison County Skate Park facility on DeBuys Road in Biloxi is empty once again on Wednesday after the county evicted the latest tenant, the Coast Athletic Club. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors did very little vetting of a proposal to transform its skate park into a soccer facility before awarding a lease that it now wants to cancel.

That lease was with Kevin Mattina of Ocean Springs, who Wednesday evening was arrested and charged with felony pretense. He’s accused of selling bleachers from the skate park without permission of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. He was being held in the county jail on a $150,000 bond.

Mattina had written a letter to the supervisors that said the bleachers had been returned.

Besides the missing bleachers, the county said it terminated Mattina’s lease because it says Mattina didn’t pay $7,000 in power bills at the complex.

Mattina in the letter also said his dream of having a soccer complex at the park on DeBuys Road never materialized because the city of Biloxi wouldn’t issue him a business license. He said that prevented him from switching the utilities from the county to his Coast Athletic Club.

Supervisors heard four proposals last year, including one from Mattina, but eventually rejected them all and asked for new proposals. Mattina presented essentially the same proposal this year but increased the monthly payment from $2,000 to $5,000. That increase apparently convinced supervisors that his proposal was best.

“The supervisors and the county administrator talked about the different proposals when they were received, that is all I remember about it,” said Supervisor Angel Kibler-Middleton in an email. “From my pitiful memory, I think Mattina’s bid was the most money to the county per month.”

Board attorney Tim Holleman said the county thought it was doing the right thing by accepting the proposal that would have paid the county the most. He said he didn’t do much digging into Mattina’s background because Mattina’s family is well known.

“I’ll definitely look closer the next time,” he said.

The board’s unanimous vote accepting Mattina’s proposal simply says it found “the proposal of Kickmaster’s Coast Athletic Club is the best market value proposal meeting specifications, and that it is reasonable and fair and should be accepted.”

That was in April. Six months later, the board was in executive session discussing “potential litigation” over that lease. Monday, Holleman wrote a letter to Mattina outlining the reasons it was terminating the lease, which included the unpaid utilities and bleachers it believed had been removed and sold. But, Mattina wrote, the bleachers had in fact been returned to the main skate park building.

Mattina hasn’t responded to several calls and emails to comment.

Another mystery

Supervisors asked the sheriff’s office to investigate, and when deputies went to the building they found gambling equipment as well as sports equipment stored there. Holleman said officials don’t know who owns the gambling equipment.

“I just said, I’m not touching it,” he said. “There had been a movie studio in there. It could have belonged to them. I don’t know.”

Mattina wrote that he had original the backing of Kickmaster, which operates a similar venture in Ohio, but that didn’t pan out so he started Coast Athletic Club. He asked for a second chance to prove his plan would work but that now seems unlikely.

Supervisor Connie Rockco, who represents District 5, which includes the skate park, sounded exasperated Tuesday.

“Arrrrrgh,” she said. “It’s just something we’ll have to deal with now.”

Who knows what’s next?

Rockco said she doesn’t know what will happen next at the park, which has had several tenants over the years, including a movie studio and a roller derby team.

“It’ll be in litigation,” she said. For now, though, the county has changed the locks.

She said Mattina’s proposal definitely seemed to be the best.

“I should have known it was just too good to be true,” she said. “(Mattina) had a guy from another place this was going in who was going to be his partner. He came down and made the presentation. I don’t know what happened to him. I haven’t seen him since.”

Earlier, she jokingly said the skate park, which was built before she was a supervisor, was cursed.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Nothing ever seems to work out.

“I’d love to sell it. I’d love for somebody to do something with it. It’s a great property. It’s just in a crazy location, I guess. We manage properties all over the county and we’ve never any problem with anything but that one.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton