Don't sacrifice quality of new soccer park

December 11, 2010 11:55:00 PM



Bids for the proposed soccer park in Burns Bottom show that quality isn''t cheap. But as the county forges ahead with the project, we urge them to keep their focus on quality -- and to explore every available funding option, including tourism tax funds. 


The county had budgeted $2.9 million for the park, and this estimate was based on a straightforward soccer-fields-only concept. A plan that incorporates the natural setting of Burns Bottom into the design adds to the cost. Add to that walking trails, meeting places, irrigation, and a connection to the Riverwalk and the price increases further. The low bid offered on the project, $4.6 million, was over budget but not unexpected considering the park''s revised concept. 


We need to be responsible in our spending, and project planners are looking for ways to cut costs. But as officials move forward, they need to remember that the project, at Columbus'' front doorstep, deserves to be top-notch. We don''t need a Yugo parked in front of our beautiful downtown. We need a Cadillac. 


Lowndes County Supervisors President Harry Sanders, who has been a champion of the Burns Bottom location from the start, believes in the Cadillac approach but also believes the project can be rebid and hit the $2.9 million mark -- or at least close -- and the county can find additional funds. With cost savings elsewhere, that may be so. But we''re skeptical that will be the case, if the quality construction deserving of the project is pursued. 


Lowndes County has other options to make up the difference. It could float bonds, or borrow the money in another way. Since the sale of the hospital to Baptist, the county has wisely left the principal untouched, using only the interest it produces to fund projects. With interest rates at historic lows, we wouldn''t expect much from that source. 


Another idea being floated by some officials is having the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau contribute. The CVB could take out a loan against future tourism tax revenue. The CVB hasn''t been involved in the project. Soccer tournaments have the potential to draw thousands of people to the city. The park itself is an enhancement to quality of life, and would be a new venue for festivals and other events that would draw both locals and visitors. This fits in with the CVB''s mission nicely. 


The CVB has other projects in the works, including a new headquarters, the renovation to the Tennessee Williams Home, and a landscaping plan that will unify both buildings and create a small urban park. The CVB also agreed, reluctantly, to pick up a third of the cost of renovating the old Highway 82 bridge, also next to the Riverwalk, into a pedestrian parkway. 


The soccer park would be another enhancement to these projects. We urge the CVB to consider how it can get involved and look at ways to contribute tourism money. The organization lives on revenue generated by a 2-percent restaurant tax. Proceeds from that tax have grown steadily in recent years and with this new attraction we expect that trend to continue. 


Officials will have a better idea what to expect, and what the funding difference might be, after new bids for the project are opened in January. 


We hope officials look at every avenue to save money, but not at the expense of quality. Columbus and Lowndes County officials have a rare opportunity to build something truly unique and special downtown. We urge them explore every available funding option.