Bankruptcy filing leaves projects in limbo

Updated: February 17, 2004, 5:55 PM ET
Associated Press

LEANDER, Texas -- AstroTurf-maker Southwest Recreational Industries Inc., which installed an artificial playing surface at sports facilities including the Louisiana Superdome, has filed for bankruptcy protection and is going out of business.

The bankruptcy leaves projects in limbo at athletic facilities across the country, including new turf scheduled for the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, where the Twins, Vikings and University of Minnesota Golden Gophers play.

"This is something that's being assessed right now, which projects we're going to be able to complete versus which projects we're not," said Matthew Levin, SRI's bankruptcy attorney. "At this point it's just too early to say."

Leander-based SRI laid off about 320 employees on Thursday, a day before it filed for bankruptcy in Rome, Ga. It held on to about 190 employees to help it shut down over the next two weeks.

In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it will sell two small divisions that make portable sports flooring and equipment for volleyball, gymnastics and basketball. But SRI's most well-known products, football fields and running tracks, will be discontinued in the next few weeks.

Calls to SRI went unanswered on Tuesday. Matthew Levin, the company's bankruptcy attorney, did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

The filing caps a dramatic decline for the company, which once was the industry leader in sports surfaces with millions in sales and fast growth. The heavily indebted company grew faster than management or its systems could handle, according to the bankruptcy filing.

In mid-2003, the company hired a new CEO and an investment banker to create and implement a turnaround strategy. But SRI's problems continued and it could not obtain financing for continued operations.

"It is surprising to see a company go under so quickly," said Robert Sills, whose Pennsylvania-based company, Martin Surfacing Inc. is listed as SRI's second-largest creditor, with a $6.3 million claim.

"They were the industry leaders and seemed quite profitable and seemed to be in good shape," Sills told the Austin American-Statesman for a Tuesday story. "And it all came unraveled pretty quickly."

SRI ended the year with $156.9 million in revenue, a nearly 29 percent drop from $220 million in 2002, as reported by business research firm Hoover's Inc.

In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it had about $102 million in assets and $88 million in liabilities as of Dec. 31. It also said the company has more than 1,000 creditors.

AstroTurf, the first artificial playing field surface, was created more than 30 years ago. Artificial turf came to professional sports in 1966, when it was used to carpet the Astrodome, inspiring the AstroTurf brand name.

SRI, which entered into the artificial turf business in 1989, bought AstroTurf Industries Inc. in 1994 from St. Louis-based Balsam Corp., which had filed for bankruptcy.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press