So it looks like we are getting the soccer complex. Mobile County officials are hoping to have a construction permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their proposed soccer and aquatic complex by March. Then they just have to vote on it (and it appears they have the votes), and it will be a go. The cost of the project is estimated to be $20 million for the soccer portion and another $20 million for the aquatic complex. You know, pocket change.
Let me start off by saying I don’t hate the idea of the complex. I just don’t have a great personal interest in it at this time of my life, so I’m just not that fired up about it. My kids are still at the ages when they play soccer, it’s cute for about a minute and then quickly turns into constantly yelling, “You are running the wrong way.”
But I do have friends who have older children who play and they often bemoan the lack of decent fields around here, so I get there is a need for something better. But do we really need this megaplex with 10 fields, including a championship field? It seems a bit excessive.
They say this complex could be great for the economy, with a $6.5 million estimated impact within the first year IF it can secure 10 tournaments. And that’s a big IF, as it would have to be subsidized for the first five years to the tune of $250,000. These tournaments are supposed to come here, with soccer moms and dads shelling out money for hotel rooms and postgame meals at our restaurants. Maybe that will happen. But I worry with competing facilities in neighboring Baldwin County already up and running and closer to the beach, we may not get as many of these as some think we will.
And if we don’t, are we dropping a lot of dough on a project that isn’t really that big of an economic driver and one most of the county’s residents will never set foot in? Or if they do, will it be for a limited amount of time? You watch your kids play for however long they’re interested in being the next David Beckham or Mia Hamm, and then once they’re done, you’ll probably rarely have the occasion to go back. (I’m sure there are younger soccer stars to reference but these were my generation’s, so I’m going with them.)
I don’t know. I guess if we have all this money sitting around, there are just other projects I would be way more excited about. Ones more of us could get more use out of over the course of our lifetimes, like the Three Mile Creek project. This is going to be a tremendous asset to our community, as it will connect downtown to the University of South Alabama with walking and bicycle trails along the creek, which we will also be able to canoe or kayak on. But there is also a tremendous price tag on it, which is why it’s going to be done gradually over the next 20 years. But a $20 million to $40 million investment could certainly speed that up. Now maybe it doesn’t fill up hotels and restaurants, but quality-of-life projects like this will help us retain residents and attract new businesses.
Creating more public access to the bay either with a park or fishing pier would also be really cool.
Or it seems we could use the money to just restore all of our existing parks and ball fields, including those used for soccer. Maybe even add a championship court to the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center?
Or we could just pay down debt?
There are endless possibilities, but really what I find more troubling is that basically two people get to decide how this very, very large chunk of change is used. With only three people on our County Commission, two votes and a project gets off the ground. That just seems a bit dangerous, especially when you consider some of the crazy characters who have been on the commission over the years. And yes, I know you can argue the next election is a referendum on their decision-making, but by then the money has been spent and the damage is done.
I really think we need a five-person commission to help alleviate this problem.
And, at the very least, we should get to vote on a project of this magnitude. If it gets voted up, then grab the shovels. But if it doesn’t, why not go back to the drawing board and come up with something with more support? That way you can still get your name on a building, which I’m sure is the main driver for these projects, but it will be on one the people actually want.