By Sarah Wilson and Brian Jones
Nearly 12 years have passed since the idea of a local sportsplex was first kicked around, and the much-anticipated grand opening of the Columbus Soccer Complex and Football Field will be on Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Tanyard Park location in Burns Bottom located on Third St. N.
The new downtown multi-use complex spans 35 acres and is home to 10 soccer fields, which can be split into two dozen smaller fields, one of which can be used for soccer or football.
The complex will be managed by the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, and CLRA Executive Director Roger Short said that the park is going to be an amazing addition to downtown Columbus.
“We are excited to begin our new life at the soccer complex,” said Short. “The outdated Cook Soccer Complex has served us greatly and we will continue to use the Cook facility as a practice facility and as overflow fields in the event of extremely large tournaments.”
Tournaments are already being scheduled for future years. CLRA’s soccer program has 55 teams and about 500 participants who will be able to play on the new fields in the upcoming year.
“The Soccer Complex will have a great economic impact when tournaments are hosted,” said Short. “Tournaments will bring out of town guests to our city to buy our gasoline, stay in our motels and eat at our restaurants, and that will help the sales tax base. It will also enhance downtown as it will be the front door to our downtown area. It will also serve as a venue for other civic activities such as picnics, parades, possible concerts or events such as Night out on Crime and Relay for Life events. We are currently partnering with the CCVB to begin bidding on future soccer tournaments.”
Short said he and the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority are very excited about the opportunities presented with the new park, and is well worth the extra work that will fall on the CLRA.
“The new complex brings additional maintenance responsibilities for us and a greater opportunity for programming,” he explained. “We do project a growth spurt with the simple fact that the complex is new and more children will want the opportunity to play on the fields. Some local high schools will be playing some of their tournaments on the complex. Columbus High School will host their 2012 Golden Triangle Classic on November 3 with five schools participating – Columbus, MSMS, Caledonia, New Hope and West Point. As well, MSMS will be playing their home games at the new complex. With the possibilities of MUW reinstating an Intercollegiate Athletic program, the complex would serve as a great venue for their home games if they choose to include soccer.”
A Long Road
The Columbus Lowndes Recreation Authority identified new soccer fields as a primary need. The CLRA was largely dependent upon the largesse of the Columbus Municipal School District at that time, basing much of their program at the fields adjacent to Joe Cook Elementary School. Although the idea for a sportsplex was not a new one, CLRA Executive Director Roger Short was determined to get plans off the ground this time.
The CLRA, the Columbus City Council and the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors began discussing potential sites, and soon the field was narrowed down to three possibilities: around 50 acres owned by Jimmy Graham and located west of the river, about four miles from downtown Columbus; about 156 acres owned by the Army Corps of Engineers adjacent to the Riverwalk; and Burns Bottoms, which included around 70 acres owned by over 30 different landowners, including the City of Columbus, which owned about 20 acres.
At a June 2009 joint meeting with the CLRA, city council and supervisors, Burns Bottom emerged as the clear favorite. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed, with the Commercial Dispatch’s Birney Imes especially opposed to the idea.
In September 2009 a charrette team came to Columbus, and the cornerstone of their presentation was a soccerplex…at Burns Bottom. They suggested incorporating the site’s natural features into the design, and Imes was won over, even promising to help pay for the architect’s fees.
Later that month the soccerplex hit a fresh snag when District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks demanded that the Board of Supervisors – who would be footing the bill to acquire the property – come up with a neighborhood parks renovation plan before they would back the purchase. An accord was reached later that year, and the soccerplex project began moving again. [The neighborhood parks project has since been completed. – Brian Jones]
The county footed the entire $4.7 million bill to acquire property, with the city donating its 20 acres and performing in-kind services, including grubbing and clearing the site. The city also promised to renovate the Trotter Convention Center at a future date without the county’s help.
Additional funding was solicited from local businesses and many stepped up to the plate, including Sprint Mart, BancorpSouth, Shell, Watkins 45, Callaway Orthodontics, Fairview Baptist Church, Weyerhaeuser, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Carl Hogan Toyota and more.
The CLRA opened construction bids in March 2011, and construction began in April 2011.
Short invites the community to attend the grand opening ceremonies on Saturday at 10 a.m. “There will be a parade of athletes, civic speakers and a chronological description of how we got to this point with the soccer complex. It promises to be an entertaining morning and you might even get to see our local elected officials attempt to score the first goals of the new complex,” he promised.0