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Residents: Park plan a good start


Kristin Mamrack



Residents responded favorably to conceptual plans for a soccer park to be located on 70 acres in the Burns Bottom area, noting few concerns, such as parking and ensuring the park -- which officials say will offer much more than soccer -- offers adequate facilities for the sport. 


Neel-Schaffer Inc. Engineer Randy Meador, City Engineer Kevin Stafford and landscape architect Ed Blake of The Design Studio in Hattiesburg Monday presented plans for the park, during a public hearing at the Municipal Complex. 


In addition to the soccer fields, the site will include nature trails and green spaces, with pavilions for family and class reunions and other events and connect to The Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market, the Columbus Riverwalk and, potentially the historic Highway 82 bridge over the Tombigbee River. 


"I think the overall idea is visionary," Tom Velek, director of competitive soccer for the Columbus United Soccer Club, said of the presentation. "What myself and several other people who are closely involved with the soccer program are concerned about is soccer becoming an almost tangential part of the overall project. Our concern is the needs of the soccer program now and 20 years into the future are met, because this is the only soccer park we''re going to get. 


"I think it''s a great location," he added. "It allows the project to tie into downtown and the fabric of the city. It''s the little things directly related to soccer that have to be addressed." 


Velek''s concerns include, having room for expansion and "designated parking" areas, orienting the soccer fields in a north-to-south direction, and having more adult soccer fields. 


"I support the project, the location, the multi-use nature of it," he said. "We just feel there are some issues, specifically dealing with soccer, to be addressed." 


"The presentation was well done and I''m glad so many community members turned out to hear the presentation," said Chuck Yarborough, a local teacher and soccer parent. "The proposed integration of a soccer complex with a downtown park that allows for community spaces and multi-use will be a wonderful resource for Columbus and Lowndes County. The outstanding turnout for the meeting demonstrates how many local folks recognize this park can be a great enhancement to our community''s quality of life offerings. 


"Some more thought needs to go into the number and size of the soccer fields at the proposed park," he continued. "As presented, the park will wonderfully accommodate recreational and high school soccer needs for the fall seasons. However, planners need to make sure the field spaces are large enough to be reconfigured into a sufficient number of full-size fields (for different age groups) and fields to enable Columbus to host major youth soccer tournaments in the late fall and throughout the spring." 


"The soccer complex has been a long time coming and I am excited that the community will soon have a state-of-the-art facility, which will be one of a kind in the south," said Will Cooper, who serves as board attorney for the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority. "My initial concern with putting the complex in Burns Bottom was that soccer fields are not attractive. The architects and engineers have done an outstanding job in designing a complex that will be aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time serve its purpose as a soccer facility. 


"The park design will serve all members of the community and will enhance the entrance to the downtown area," he added. "I, personally, love the nature aspect of the park and the additional green spaces for other recreational activities. I have to say that I was very impressed with the presentation." 


"I think the presentation was, overall, very good," said Marc Amos, who coaches girls'' soccer games for Columbus United Soccer Club. "The park, as proposed, seems like a wonderful idea. I also like the concept of the park from a community aspect. I think the more user-friendly we make it, especially tied in with the Riverwalk and the bridge, gives us a tremendous opportunity to bring our community together in a wonderful environment. 


"I think that with the right sort of planning, the area around (the soccer park) could develop into an eclectic mix of upscale shops, apartments and even professional offices, which would be great for the surrounding area," he continued. "Soccer tournaments would provide an incredible opportunity for our Main Street shops and restaurants." 


Amos noted the soccer park "would create an incredible first impression" for visitors and for those considering relocation to the area. 


"Rather than a dilapidated, overgrown scenic entry into our town, people would see this incredible park and would, hopefully, think that Columbus is the sort of place that my family, kids, grandkids would love," he said. "Couple that with the great things we already have going on, such as the Riverwalk, the bridge, Main Street and our economic and industrial growth and, all of a sudden, we would have a winning formula for the future." 


"I thought it was great and captured the idea of using the potential natural beauty of the site, as well as integrating the soccer and other recreational uses," Sam Kaye said of the conceptual plans. "When you say soccer park, remember that it is that plus so much more." 


Kaye noted connection of the park to the Riverwalk and historic bridge, which will be restored into a pedestrian walkway, is key and touted the benefits of extending the Riverwalk. 


"Remember that none of this other happens overnight, but should be part of the vision of what can be in the future," he said. "(And) hardly mentioned is the potential future connection to Magnolia Bowl, which is an engineering achievement in its own right." 


Planners earlier said the soccer fields would be constructed with terrace-style seating or bleachers, similar to that of the Magnolia Bowl, which was carved out of a hillside. 


"I loved it," Debra Mason said of the presentation. "As I sat there and observed the photos and heard the descriptions, all I could think was our community would be so fortunate to have a park such as this in our area. This park is not only a soccer complex, but a new way for families and the community to come together. 


"Even though I do not travel very often, I have been able to visit Central Park in New York and our park reminds me of this," she continued. "I can visualize our (Mississippi University for Women) college students in the park, studying and reading. There could be lawn games played and, also, I think it may get the community more involved with the soccer association. I know I would definitely go watch a soccer game being played on the championship field. I loved the idea of tiered seating (on the) grass, what an idea! And I look forward to my first walk in the park." 


Stafford reported a park design will be finished by fall and officials expect to have a contractor by January. 


Grass will be planted on the soccer fields by early summer 2011, and the first games likely will be held on the fields by the fall of 2011, he said.




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