Property proposed for sportsplex
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – The Parks and Recreation Board proposed locating a recreational complex on 170 acres of property along U.S. 280 at a City Council work session Monday night.

The $918,000 property, owned by the Bivin and Gaston families, is located at the northeast corner of the intersection of U.S. 280 and Alabama 21. It is the same property the city considered in 2004 and authorized then-mayor Bruce Carr to sign contracts on before running into issues that halted the deal, Mayor Doug Murphree said Monday.

Realtor Greg Atkinson said the $5,400/acre price may be negotiable but is low for U.S. 280 property. According to his proposal, the hilly land has space for 10 ball fields, eight soccer fields, a natural amphitheater, nature and bike trails and room for expansion.

“When you think about locating a site like this, think about growth,” Atkinson said. “There’s not a lot of land for us to grow, and I think when you’re spending that amount of money on something, we need to look at the whole picture. We need to plan for our future and growth. I think it can help our community develop and bring more opportunities to younger and older people. People always ask, ‘How can we afford this?’ If we get creative, I think we can find a way to do it. The question is can we not afford it? It’s not an easy decision, but I think you’ve got a nice track here that will meet the community’s needs.”

Murphree said the council “got pretty far” with discussions about the proposed property 10 years ago.

“I flew the area,” he said. “We went in there several different days with four-wheel drive vehicles and looked at the hills we’d have to cut down, and it is doable, but there are a couple things we ran into that we never got addressed. Water and sewage is going to be a problem. Things like that need to be addressed before we go very far on this, but it is doable to cut the tops off the hills. It’s costly, but it can be done.”

The Parks and Recreation Board suggested some potential grant opportunities, such as the Community Facilities grant program funded by the Department of Agriculture, the Outdoor Recreational grant program sponsored by the National Park Service, and the Community Development Block Grant program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, board member Pam Landers said they encourage and challenge the local community to get involved with fundraising.

City Council President Rocky Lucas asked if there are grants available to relocate the current sportsplex in the Mill Village since it is in close proximity to the REEF Environmental superfund site.

“There’s got to be something out there because of the possibility of an environmental hazard,” Lucas said. “I don’t know that there is a hazard, but you would think the federal or state government would be very interested in removing our children from that vicinity.”

Parks and Recreation Director Jim Armstrong said grants are typically easier to receive once a location for the project is secured.

Board Chairman Daren Holland also made a presentation showing issues with Sylacauga’s sports facilities and examples of what comparable cities have built.

“We’ve got some major challenges with our current facilities,” Holland said. “They are in substantial need of repair.”

Holland named these as some of the most pressing problems with the current sportsplex: hard-to-find and unwelcoming location, frequent vandalism, unsuitable fields, no paved parking, drainage issues, no sidewalks or landscaping, poor fencing and grass, outdated press box and concession stands, no equipment storage, antiquated lighting and out-of-service water fountains.

Ultimately, the council and Parks and Recreation Board agreed to form a committee to further research the feasibility of the U.S. 280 land.

Also at the work session, the council discussed repairs to Legion Stadium and the police budget for the newly approved School Resource Officer. The council meets tonight at 6 at City Hall.

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© 2013