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November 22, 2014
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Posted: Saturday, May 3rd 2014 at 9:00am

Gainesville wants to build Youth Athletic Complex using potential SPLOST dollars

By Marc Eggers Staff
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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Michael Graham
GAINESVILLE – 30 years ago people began running the bases on the four baseball diamonds at Ivey Watson Field in Lanier Point Park (formerly Jefferson Park, for real old-timers). Gainesville’s population had just surpassed 15,000.

Now that number has swelled beyond 35,000 with a daytime population estimated at 100,000, and not one additional baseball field has been added to the city’s inventory since Ivey Watson opened.

But that’s going to change if Gainesville Parks and Recreation has much to say about it…and they did, at Thursday morning’s City Council work session.

Deputy Director Michael Graham told Council members and the Mayor, “With the shortage of fields, over the years we’ve worked with the other local service providers: the Gainesville City School System, the Boys and Girls Clubs and Hall County Parks and Leisure. But even with these fields we are not meeting the needs.”

Graham pointed out that “need” includes sports other than baseball. “Lacrosse, cricket even,” Graham explained, “we have been getting requests for cricket here lately. We cannot meet those demands.”

However the greatest increase in demand for field-time is youth football. “In the past five years alone, baseball has grown or increased by 138-percent; football by 675-percent,” Graham said.

Graham described to Council the vision of the Parks and Rec Department for converting a 368-acre city-owned site on Monroe Drive, across from the Allen Creek Soccer Complex, into a six-field baseball/softball complex with two additional multi-purpose football fields, parking and support buildings.

Graham knew the questions that the Council would have about such an undertaking, so he addressed matters-of-money before the questions could be asked. He used a weekend baseball tournament hosted by the city at Lanier Point Park in 2013 as his measuring stick to make the extrapolation.

“If you bring in just one weekend baseball tournament, with a six-field complex you could hold forty teams. That forty teams just in one weekend could generate an economic impact of over half-a-million dollars,” Graham said.

He then added, “Consider the fact that Lanier Point, which only has four fields, a very small complex, hard to get a lot of tournaments there because it’s a small complex, we run about 22 tournaments a year there.”

Heads began to nod among Council members as the economic potential was explained, but the question remained: how does the city pay for the construction of the potential money-generator?

Cooper Embry chairs the committee putting together the planned complex-strategy. He said that the best source of funding would be SPLOST dollars. “We feel like to get funding for this that SPLOST is probably one our main ways to go with this.”

Councilman George Wangemann saw a possible struggle getting SPLOST funds allocated for building the complex. “The County (Hall) has made it pretty clear that SPLOST 7 funds will be used for…absolute necessities. I don’t know if in their minds whether this could be considered an absolute necessity.”

Wangemann added, “That part you may have to sell to the County. So that’s going to be a challenge for us, I think.”

Embry replied, “My statement to the County is that they’ve got about seven or eight facilities that they have built over the last several SPLOSTS, beautiful complexes. So I think they made that an absolute necessity for them so I think it should be an absolute necessity for us.”

Committee member John Vardeman said, “I’m very much in favor of SPLOST for the roads and infrastructure…I feel like this could help with the SPLOST passage…the parents in the community that want this…I think that pairing this with roads and infrastructure for the SPLOST would indeed help.”

Mayor Danny Dunagan added, “Let me make this clear: we don’t have to have the County’s permission to put anything on the SPLOST that we’re getting our money for. Period.”

Gainesville Parks and Recreation Director Melvin Cooper summed things up, “As far as the timetable for the Youth Athletic Complex, it’s based on when, and if, it may get on a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax ballot…and then what priorities that facility will have along with the other projects. It could be anywhere from three to five years down the road to do that.”

“As far as the cost of the facility,” Cooper explained, “it’s still being discussed and analyzed right now.”

It sounds like this game could go to extra innings.
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