From September through November, three nights a week, hundreds of vehicles will line the streets near Cook and Heritage schools.
It”s not a concert or a festival.
It”s youth soccer.
For the past 17 years, the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority has borrowed space — an open field behind Cook, from the city school district, to host games for its 500 players and 50 teams.
By next soccer season, they will have a place to call their own.
Rough grading work has begun on 72 acres of land in the Burns Bottom area, just west of downtown, for a soccer park.
What now looks like piles of dirt and scrap concrete, next year will house 10 soccer fields with sidewalks, a bridge over Moore”s Creek and boardwalk. Utility lines, now hanging from poles, will be underground.
Eventually, planners hope to add features such as a miniature waterfall, playground and pavilions, though those items aren”t funded and aren”t part of the project”s first phase.
“I”m hoping they”re done sometime in the spring,” City Engineer Kevin Stafford said of the project contractor, Phillips Contracting Co. Phillips expects to finish well ahead of schedule, which puts the park at an Aug. 21, 2012 completion date. Construction began in mid-April.
“Soccer season, we knew it wouldn”t be played out there this year,” Stafford said. “The plan is to have it ready for soccer season next year.”
But the park will be for more than just soccer, he said, and if completed early, “the first event out there may not even be a soccer game. The community may want to use it for something else.”
At the Starkville Sportsplex, the seven-field soccer complex hosts Relay for Life and other community events, when youth soccer is not being played, February-April and September-November. Starkville also hosts two invitational tournaments. Years ago, the sportsplex hosted soccer players in a junior Olympic development league, representing 20-30 countries.
Columbus” soccer park will give the city the option to bid on such events, as well as state and regional tournaments.
“There”s an economic impact, because we currently don”t do tournaments, because of the facilities we have now,” said Roger Short, director of recreation for Columbus and Lowndes County. “Not only that, when we have the soccer down there, there will be the opportunity for people to have festivals or other events down there.”
And though Starkville is 26 miles away, officials there and in Columbus do not see the neighboring soccer facilities as competitive.
“I don”t think it”s a competition, at all. I think it would serve Columbus well to have something like that,” said Matthew Rye, director of the Starkville Park Commission.
Rye agrees a soccer park can be an economic engine.
“We have a January tournament where a lot of times, usually cities are dead,” Rye noted. “Since soccer is a year-round sport, and they play when weather is not so good and so forth, it provides an opportunity that time of year for people to be at our restaurants and shop at our stores.”
Starkville hosts two soccer tournaments a year, bringing 60 teams to the area, most of which stay in hotels; 700 children participate the city”s recreational league.
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