PHOTO: An example of a quad-baseball field, something Alderman Jeff Graves said he would like to see in the new sports complex.
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
While the city of Spring Hill continues to try and meet the needs of its residents in terms of road improvements, there’s another aspect of the city that both citizens and members of the Parks and Rec Department argue is just as important – recreation facilities. To that end, the city has in its list of projects deemed a priority – the Capital Improvement Projects list – a sports complex, at an estimated total cost of $11,425,000.
The only issue? City alderman and sitting member on Parks and Rec Jeff Graves said it’s securing funding.
“We desperately need recreation facilities; we need parks, we need athletic fields, [and] we are so far behind in what we have,” Graves said. “[The Parks and Rec Department] did the master plan for the parks system, [and] in 2012 it pointed out we were already behind then, and so we’ve only gotten further behind.”
While still barely in the conceptual stage, Graves said he envisions the sports complex to have 12 – 16 baseball and softball fields, with basic amenities such as a public restroom and drinking fountains.
Taking the vision a step further, the Parks and Rec Department drafted in 2012 a Greenway Plan, in which it detailed more specifics on the future complex. Specifics for the sports complex listed in the plan include “four soccer fields, one football field, six youth baseball and softball fields, two adult baseball and softball fields, four tennis courts, two baseball courts, one playground, and four picnic areas along with associated parking and restroom facilities.”
Looking at the city’s Capital Improvement Projects list (CIP), city officials have estimated the engineering, planning and design phases of the project to cost roughly $850,000, with the construction of the complex itself at $10,500,000. Additionally, the recent property tax increase in Spring Hill stipulates that all additional revenue from the increase would be restricted to being spent on projects listed on the CIP, of which the sports complex is among them. After all projects on the CIP are fully funded, the property tax rates will also revert back to the previous rate before the increase, or “sunset.”
Graves said that the biggest hurdle currently standing in the way of the project moving forward, is funding – but that such a complex could easily become its own funding resource in the future.
“We all know it needs to be done, it’s just a matter of funding it and moving towards that,” Graves said. “One of the big ideas behind it, at least from my prospective, is that having something like that is its own an economic driver. Areas that have these types of facilities that then host tournaments, it’s the equivalent of adding, economically, 10,000 people to your city without permanently adding a single person.”
Graves listed as examples the Ridley Sports Complex in Columbia, which features a 27,000-square-foot indoor facility, multiple baseball fields and a practice center, as well as McKnight Park in Murfreesboro – both of which regularly host tournaments. Graves continued by saying not only would a sports complex be of immediate use to the city’s residents, but that the economic impact from hotel stays, shopping and dining could be significant.
At a projected cost of over $10,000,000 though, some may question how such a project could ever be funded, especially with the amount of road improvements desperately needed. Graves said he believes the private sector to be the key.
“I personally think the key to getting this done, with all the other needs that we have now, is public, private partnerships – the city coming in and investing, and then finding a private entity that has the same goals,” Graves said. “I think if you do that, you cut the cost in half and accomplish it a lot more quickly – we know that private entities can accomplish things a lot quicker and cheaper than the government can.”
In a previous city meeting, Graves had suggested the idea of partnering with a private entity to eventually see the sports complex become a reality, to which Alderman Matt Fitterer brought up some concerns of the city losing ownership of such a facility. Graves said it was simply a matter of being clear and concise in any sort of agreement.
“That’s one of the things that has to be worked out, is what does that relationship look like,” Graves said. “Obviously, if you have private investors, private money pouring into it, they’re going to need a return on their investment, and so it has to make sense for them. Figuring out what that looks like, and making sure it’s spelled out is [key].”
Director of Parks and Rec Kevin Fischer also agreed that a sports complex was desperately needed in the city, but that ultimately, it comes down to funding.
“We all know we need to do it, it’s just a matter of how do we get to that point of doing it,” Fischer said. “Finding the property, getting the money, finding the right partners, that kind of thing.”
While the timeline on when Spring Hill may actually see its sports complex is still up in the air, the CIP list does project that the project will be “fully constructed by the year 2030.”
“It’s going to depend on the will of the board, it’s been on the capital improvement list, and so it’s a matter of the board seeing it as something that’s doable, and a priority at that time,” Graves said. “Obviously roads are huge, but we can’t neglect quality of life. It all works hand in hand; without the roads, you get the frustration of people getting in and out, without the quality of life… it’s all got to work together. You invest in the infrastructure, but you also invest in the quality of life, and that’s what, in turn, I think what will draw the businesses that we’re looking for – the white-collar businesses.”