During the open comment portion of the meeting, many citizens who spoke were opposed to the area – a 170-acre Bivin-Gaston property at the northeast corner of U.S. 280 and Alabama 21 – that was recommended for a complex by the Recreational Complex Committee at a council work session Monday night.
“To get a good sports complex, you don’t pick the most illogical place to even consider,” said resident Bill Gooch of the proposed location. “You pick logical places that can be gotten into and used at the least expense possible. I would advise you to not consider that land.”
The Complex Committee proposed the property after two months of research, believing it is the preferred site because of benefits including access to three major highways, high visibility, diverse terrain and its location convenient to downtown and residential areas. The group reviewed two other properties, a 150-acre Hightower plot on Highway 21 and a110-acre Fielding property at Highway 21 and Arco Dairy Road, but found them lacking in space and access, among other concerns.
However, residents argued Tuesday that the hilly Bivin-Gaston property would be costly to flatten and said a complex there would be a detriment to the surrounding neighborhoods, where many of the concerned residents live. Citizen Nick Menzies said even with a buffer zone, a sports complex would produce unwanted noise in his neighborhood, noting that he can hear the high school band play from two miles away. He and several other citizens suggested use of the 500-acre former Avondale Mills property that is near the current softball complex and is already owned by the city, unlike the other properties mentioned. Menzies said that property “is free, and it’s on level ground.”
Resident Ken Lampe said he was alarmed by the Complex Committee’s cost analysis of the project. According to its analysis completed by Gaston Construction, a sportsplex at on the Bivin-Gaston property would cost $5 million. The proposal includes purchase of the property, five baseball/softball fields, four soccer/football fields, an amphitheater, a 5-acre green area, parking lots and a 4- to 6-acre lake.
“To be honest with you, when you consider site excavation, paved roads, large parking areas, drainage, electrical, sewage, ball fields and building construction, I was really expecting to hear an estimated cost of somewhere around $15 million,” Lampe said, “and that’s remembering the site with the high hills and ravines that have to be dealt with. On a more level property, the cost would be much less.”
Raegan Rumsey, a resident and local lawyer with experience in city business, also questioned the committee’s comparison of Sylacauga to Cullman, which has a successful multiuse complex that brings in $8 million in annual revenues, according to the committee’s report.
“Although Cullman set a great example, I think we also need to look at the worst case scenario, like the city of Valley and some other cities, where it has not been a successful tool to bring business and revenue into the city,” Rumsey said.
On the other hand, citizen Mike Landers said the Bivin-Gaston property is the best location for a sportsplex because it U.S. 280 is the city’s only corridor for growth. Resident Drew Manuel said children who play sports do not care where the sportsplex is located, as long as there is a new one.
“I play a lot of softball and travel to 30 or 40 cities a year,” Manuel said. “My son plays travel ball some. We go out of town all the time, because we don’t have anything here. We spend money in other towns like Cullman, that I’ve been to five times this year…It wouldn’t matter if you built (the complex) on a dirt road. If it was nice fields, people are going to come.”
Scott Roberson, a Parks and Recreation Board and Complex Committee member, said there is no perfect property.
“Wherever we may choose to put the recreational complex, it’s going to be in somebody’s neighborhood,” he said. “We looked at where can Sylacauga grow, and that was the most reasonable choice we had when we chose this property. Right now, Sylacauga is 10 to 15 years behind having a complex for our city. The big focus for us was our community. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we do know its time to invest in our community.”
Councilman Joe Hogan responded to the citizens’ comments by thanking them for their passion, asking for their continued input and saying the city is “nowhere near ready to start digging.”
In other business during Tuesday’s meeting, the council:
O Heard Mayor Doug Murphree say a proposed budget for the next fiscal year should be ready next week. The city did not make its projected revenues for the current budget, which already had a $450,000 deficit, so there will be some trimming, he said.
O Accepted recommendations from Court Clerk Ken Sisk to authorize refund various cash bonds and overpayment of court fines.
O Approved expenses for Police Capt. Kelley Johnson, Sgt. Matt Emlich, Fire Chief Matt Missildine and Lt. Chris Wallis to attend training courses.
O Approved accounts payable, payrolls, financial statements and checks and transfers for August.
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.