February 18, 2009
For a decade, Columbus has been talking about building a sportsplex. Meanwhile, neighboring cities like Starkville and Tupelo have benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars pumped into their economies by such facilities.
A youth soccer tournament often pulls in as many as 800 players, with each player bringing along parents, siblings and friends. That means a room or two per player at a local hotel, plus a weekendâ€™s worth of meals, shopping and gasoline. It doesnâ€™t take an accountant to do the math to see how much a host town can benefit from a top-notch facility.
Frankly, weâ€™re disappointed by the lack of leadership from the Columbus-Lowndes Recreational Authority. While Parks and Rec leaders have been talking about a sportsplex â€" and accomplishing nothing â€" weâ€™ve revamped the city schools, built a steel mill and made considerable progress in changing the name of Mississippi University For Women.
Does the community want a new sportsplex? That question was answered with a resounding â€œyesâ€ at last weekâ€™s public meeting. How are we going to pay for it, seems to be the next question to answer. Then, letâ€™s talk about where.
Most of the talk about location has revolved around the CLRA buying land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers near the end of the Riverwalk. While being able to walk down the Riverwalk to a soccer complex sounds inviting, and the view of the field lights from the Highway 82 bridge would be impressive, the lack of access to the Corps property makes this an impractical option.
Short of putting in a ferry from Leroyâ€™s Landing, the only way to get to the Corps land is to extend Plymouth Road, and that would only provide one way in and one way out. Remember the traffic jam a few years ago with the Fourth of July fireworks show at the lock and dam, and you have an idea of the sort of situation weâ€™d have if we built the sportsplex on the Corps property.
In an effort to come up with more acceptable property options, the CLRA is now seeking land offers from the public. As Fridayâ€™s deadline approaches, weâ€™d like to throw out a few ideas on possible locations.
First, the site has to have at least 50 acres, according to the CLRA. Some possibilities come to mind. Long-time soccer coach and sportsplex advocate Chuck Yarborough has suggested a large tract off Lincoln Road behind the Kroger shopping center. This property is accessible from Lincoln, Waverly and Wilkins-Wise roads, and in the future, it could have access from the northern bypass, if and when it is built.
One site that needs to be marked off the list is Burns Bottom. Siting a soccer complex just blocks from Main Street would destroy the character of a downtown that is the envy of the state. The Burns Bottom area is best left for residential and commercial development.
Whatever location is selected, it should be accessible from either Highway 82 or Highway 45, or, if possible, both. Any site along Highway 82 would offer ready access. As one Dispatch letter writer noted, it only takes 14 minutes to get from the Stokes Road exit east of town to the Macon-Meridian exit.
If no suitable sites are forthcoming after Fridayâ€™s deadline, the CLRA should go out looking for the right property.
Youth soccer is a whole lot more than kids kicking a ball around. Itâ€™s a quality of life enhancement that is also an economic engine pumping big money into communities all across the country.
It makes sense to put the same kind of energy and leadership into getting our sportsplex built as we did reeling in SeverCorr or American Eurocopter.