Whether it”s visibility, accessibility or proximity to retail and restaurant centers, each of the three properties being considered for Lowndes County”s proposed sportsplex bring “different advantages to the table,” according to Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority Executive Director Roger Short.
But with each list of advantages also comes a nearly equally long set of disadvantages, Short was quick to add.
“We recently got the results of some environmental and wetland delineation studies that were conducted by Wildlife Technical Studies out of Tupelo,” Short told a group of more than 50 during a Rotary meeting at the Columbus Country Club. “With those and a careful look at all the properties, we”ve been able to put together a list of advantages and disadvantages for each property.”
The properties studied were a 156-acre land tract near the Columbus Riverwalk; a 50-acre piece of land near the Highway 82 Macon-Meridian exit; and a 54-acre, partially publicly owned land parcel in the city”s Burns Bottom area that includes the Hitching Lot Farmers” Market.
“These lists aren”t necessarily my concerns about the land, but rather concerns and expected benefits conveyed to us by the public and other sources,” Short said.
Although the advantages and disadvantages were varied, all three pieces of land were praised for being visible to motorists traveling on Highway 82.
Advantages of the Army Corps of Engineers-owned property near the Riverwalk included “aesthetically pleasing natural surroundings,” its relatively low projected cost of $474,864, a larger-than-needed tract of land and proximity to businesses downtown and on Highway 45 North.
“It would be conducive to growth because it is about 50 acres more than we really need right now,” Short said. “Plus it is near the Riverwalk, so they could compliment each other.”
Disadvantages of the Corps property were its location in a floodway, lack of accessibility and a higher cost of development.
“Accessibility is the big problem with that land right now. We would have to figure out how to get cars in and out of that location,” said Short. “We would also have to do a good bit of dirt work to get that land ready for the sportsplex and to get utilities in there.”
The property near the Highway 82 Macon-Meridian exit was praised for its ease of accessibility, for already containing some utility lines and adequate room to lay out sports fields.
“We looked at that property and plotted how we would lay out the fields around the wetlands there,” said Short. “It would also be very accessible and easy for people to get to.”
Short said problems with the Macon-Meridian property included its relatively high projected cost of $875,000, proximity to heavy industrial traffic, distance from Columbus and location in a flood plain.
“It”s on an old piece of farm land, so it wouldn”t be very aesthetically pleasing,” Short explained. “And some people have expressed concern over the emergency response time out there. There shouldn”t be much of a delay in getting an ambulance out there, but I guess there could be.
“The ease of giving directions out there could also be a problem,” Short added. “I could direct everyone in this room out there because we all live here, but how easy would it be to direct out-of-towners out there?”
Pros of the Burns Bottom area included ease of accessibility, extensive utility lines throughout the property, proximity to downtown and “pretty good natural surroundings.”
“Some people have come up to me and said ”the city and county is just trying to use y”all to revitalize that area of the city,”” said Short. “If that”s the case, I say let them use us. Both the city and the sportsplex would benefit from that.”
Cons of the Burns Bottom area included a potentially difficult land acquisition and its relative abundance of wetlands when compared to the other two properties, Short said.
“There are something like 31 different landowners in the Burns Bottom property, so we would have to deal with a lot of people. Because of that, we don”t really know what kind of time frame we would be dealing with,” said Short. “There are also quite a few wetlands down there. But we can work the fields around those wetlands without much of an issue.”
Although Short and other city and county officials have roughly plotted the potential location of sports fields on each piece of property, they are awaiting the results of a cost analysis study on the land parcels before they move forward with further planning.
“We are expecting to get the results of the complete cost-analysis studies by this Friday,” said Short. “After that, we will have a much better idea of which land would even be feasible.
“It may be that we get the results of those studies back and then have to throw out these three lands and start over again,” Short laughed.
After CLRA officials review the cost-analysis studies, likely during the agency”s May 4 meeting, Short will present the findings to the Columbus City Council and the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.
Once completed, the sportsplex will house the CLRA”s soccer and football programs. The project is expected to cost between $4 million and $5 million and likely will be completed between three and four years after the land is purchased, said Short.
“We are going to have to have the city and the county”s support if we are going to fund this project,” Short said. “Right now, we are not sure where funding is going to come from. Whether the city or county will have the money on hand or if it will come from a bond issue or some other source, we just aren”t sure at this time.
“A lot of people have been coming up and asking me if we are actually going to build the sportsplex,” Short added, noting the project originally was envisioned more than 10 years ago. “I sincerely believe that it is going to happen this time. We are closer now than we have ever been before.”