An ambitious plan to build a private, $30-million U.S. Fitness Academy was dealt a severe setback Friday when Orange County officials let expire a lease option on 175 acres in Laguna Niguel because the plan’s backers had raised too little money for the training facility.
The county had intended to lease the undeveloped land at a cost of only $1 a year.
The academy, proposed as a training facility for the nation’s coaches, was the idea of George Allen, former National Football League coach. He said in 1985 that he would raise donations through his nonprofit National Fitness Foundation and build the academy by the end of President Reagan’s administration.
But Allen had raised only $2.7 million through 1987, and has spent nearly all of that, according to state and federal tax records. Much of the foundation’s money was spent trying to raise more money, typically on high-profile fund-raising award banquets.
“To date there has been no evidence, sadly, of progress being made either in the planning or the fund-raising,” Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said Friday. “I was--and others were--caught up in the enthusiasm of the coach.”
Allen, who was in Dallas Friday to receive an award for his contribution to American physical fitness, responded, “We didn’t get the (financial) support in Orange County . . . or any other support.
“There were just so many restrictions and obligations and problems to build in there that it’s almost an impossible assignment both financially and every other way.”
In an Oct. 12 letter to Allen, Riley wrote that a review of the project “raised many questions as to the foundation’s ability to comply with the requirements of the option agreement.”
County officials had granted an 8-month extension last February to allow Allen’s proposal to be revised and new plans to be submitted.
“To date, no plans or application have been submitted,” according to Riley’s letter. “It is the opinion of (the county’s) staff that the Fitness Foundation has not demonstrated a firm commitment to the project either financially or procedurally.”