Former NBA player Jermaine O’Neal alleged in a lawsuit filed Monday that Dallas airport officials failed to deliver on a promised mixed-use development around his $14 million youth sports center and refused to extend his lease in the area.
In the lawsuit filed in Dallas County Court, O’Neal said he built the Drive Nation sports facility using $14 million of his own money at the southern end of the DFW International Airport. He said he built it on airport property because they promised to build a thriving development around it.
But six years after it opened, Drive Nation is surrounded only by industrial warehouses and a Hyatt Place hotel, with a Starbucks and Whataburger attached to a gas station nearby. O’Neal’s hopes of a sprawling retail-friendly development coming to the area have faded.
“This process has left me feeling upset, disappointed,” O’Neal told Fox 4.
O’Neal spent 18 seasons in the NBA after being drafted by the Portland Trailblazers before becoming an All-Star player with the Indiana Pacers. He was a six-time NBA All-Star and three-time All-NBA player before retiring in 2014.
Even with no ties to North Texas, he settled in Southlake after his career ended.
O’Neal opened the Drive Nation basketball complex in 2017, a 91,000-square-foot training facility that has several basketball courts and hosts tournaments and training for youth teams.
The facility has thrived since its opening, expanding into hosting youth volleyball training and a charter school focused on student-athletes.
The complex hosts about 60,000 people yearly, most for tournaments and weekend camps, while another 500 kids and teenagers train there regularly.
O’Neal said he entered into a 40-year lease with the airport and financed it with some of the $168 million he made during his nearly two decades in the NBA. He chose the DFW airport as the site for his complex over a proposal from the City of Keller.
O’Neal and his attorney Victor Vital said Keller offered a 99-year lease to be the location of the complex. However, the lawsuit alleges O’Neal was ultimately enticed by DFW Airport commercial development chief John Terrell with the promise of being the center of a mixed-use development that would feature hotels, restaurants, and retail.
“They told me the direction they were going into, which was first-of-its-kind mix-use development on the south side of the airport, which was intriguing to me,” O’Neal stated.
Submitted as part of the lawsuit is a drawing Vital alleged is from the airport that was shown to O’Neal and depicted the planned development.
“What it would look like and what was laid out,” Vital said. “Unfortunately, what ended up happening is we got a sea of warehouses and gas stations connected with a Whataburger.”
“Essentially, the lawsuit is they were selling Jermaine a bill of goods in a manner of speaking empty promises,” Vital added.
The lawsuit also alleges that O’Neal had reached a deal to sell Drive Nation to an unnamed company, contingent on the 40-year lease being extended by 15 years. O’Neal claims the DFW airport refused to extend his lease, and the deal fell through.
“So we moved forward, but it was only based on what they were saying they couldn’t legally do,” he said.
O’Neal and his attorney claim they have proof that there are other tenants the airport has granted longer leases.
“Absolutely,” Vital said. “And we lay that out in the lawsuit. What they told him is false.”
In a statement, the airport said: “DFW Airport is aware that Drive Nation Sports has filed a lawsuit in regard to its lease agreement with the airport. At this time, the airport has no additional comment regarding the lawsuit.”