February 25, 2009
I read with concern and confusion a recent Commercial Dispatch editorial dealing with the proposed new soccer/sportsplex (Building a sportsplex: What are we waiting for? Feb. 18). While I certainly agree with the sentiments that the time has come for Columbus to build the facility, the editorial missed the mark when it dismissed two potential locations.
With all respect, the writer of the editorial clearly has not been around the state of Mississippi to see other soccer/outdoor sports facilities. In addition, the writer is unfamiliar with tournaments at such facilities. This is apparent when the editorial dismissed the "Corps land" at the end of the Riverwalk because it has only one road entrance in and out.
Having traveled widely with Columbus soccer teams I can assure you that the vast majority of similar facilities only have one access. Here are but two examples. Starkville has a fine facility. It has one entrance in and out coming off the relatively narrow Lynne Lane. The Reservoir Complex--one entrance/exit off of Reservoir Road in Rankin County. Both of these facilities host major tournaments without incident.
Unfamiliar with sports competitions, the writer conjures images of the traffic jams that followed a Fourth of July event at the Lock and Dam. That is not the way tournaments take place. Everyone does not arrive at 9 a.m. and leave at 6 p.m. Teams arrive and leave throughout the day as competition schedules require. Of course, most of the time such facilities are used for local practice and matches.
I was also concerned to read the editorial dismiss the Burns Bottom because of the impact it would have on downtown Columbus. This is a surprising position from a paper that normally takes progressive positions on issues of community development. It reminds me of those that fought against downtown apartments because they would "change the character of downtown."
Apartments did change the character of downtown, for the better. Locating a new sports facility nearby would also change it for the better.
The current condition of the Burns Bottom area detracts from the downtown area and does not provide a positive image of Columbus for those arriving via Hwy 82. A sharp, state-of-the-arts sports facility would have the opposite impact. Suggesting that the area is prime for residential and commercial development is to ignore the reality of that area, as well as the geographic development trends in Columbus.
In short the editorial got it wrong, and I strongly encourage CLRA, the City Council, and the Country Board of Supervisors to consider these two areas for a future sportsplex. Both would allow Columbus to do something very rare: integrate the new sportsplex into a larger recreational and lifestyle area.
One of the shortcomings of new sports facilities in other communities is that they are often isolated well outside the city with nothing around them. They have nothing attached to them. In similar fashion, one of the drawbacks of the Columbus Riverwalk is that it is, with the exception of Rueben''s, isolated. Nothing is attached to it and it is not integrated into a larger community project. You walk to the end, and the end is the end. Both the "Corps land" and Burns Bottom would provide the opportunity to tie the new sports facilities into the existing Riverwalk. This would enhance both projects and maximize the investment in both. It would also allow Columbus to create a unique sports and recreational offering.
The Burns Bottom land has the added benefit of funneling business into downtown. It is a rare thing indeed that you could walk from a sports facility to restaurants. This would be a coup for Columbus. All downtown businesses would benefit. Restaurants and the coffee shop would be the biggest winners. It wouldn''t just be just when large competitions are in town. It would be every evening when parents drop off their kids for practice. Why would we want to pass this up?
Burns Bottom is also close to the businesses and hotels on Hwy 45. It easily accessed from Hwy 82 making it convenient for Columbus, New Hope, and out-of-town guests. It is also convenient for residents of the city''s south side and near north side.
For all these reasons, I implore our communities decision makers to ignore the recent editorial and give serious consideration to these two potential locations.
Thomas G. Velek
The writer is director of competitive soccer, Columbus United Soccer.
Newton commented at 2/25/2009 5:12:00 PM:
I am in strong agreement with the referenced editorial's position. Mr. Velek, the synergy created by placing a sportsplex near downtown is intriguing, but the idea of clearing a large swath of the trees that make the western approach to our city so nice is horrifying. I encourage everyone to glance from side to side next time you are coming into Columbus from the Macon-Meridian exit. The entire landscape from the river bridge to the Main Street exit is stunning. Clear-cutting those trees and erecting metal bleachers and chain-link fences would just look terrible. Burns Bottom will one day make a great residential/commercial development, but I think soccer fields are under-selling that area's potential. The bustling Farmer's Market could serve as a "town square" with great restaurants and shops around it. It could be a more modern extension to downtown, similar to Starkville's Cotton District. It will be interesting to see the 11 sites that have been proposed.