Mobile County Commissioners have agreed to put more than $4 million into the construction of a multi-field soccer complex in what is expected to be the first phase of a long-term project.
The Mobile County Soccer Complex is slated to sit on roughly 60 acres of land near the intersection of Interstates 65 and 10. The Commission agreed to purchase the $1.3 million property in 2018 and still maintains an option to buy an additional 30 acres adjacent to it.
Mobile-based John G. Walton Construction Company was awarded a $4,087,335 contract on March 11 to build out the first phase of the project. That cost will cover the construction of four lighted fields, two of which will have seating, as well as irrigation, sewer and landscaping.
Construction of the first phase is expected to be completed by January 2020.
Commission President Connie Hudson has championed a county soccer complex for years, but a more costly proposal that would have required a $20 million bond was voted down in 2016. The county spent close to $500,000 evaluating the original project, though some permitting and planning efforts carried over to the scaled-down version that will soon be under construction.
With support from Commissioners Jerry Carl and Merceria Ludgood, the $4 million endeavor is now moving forward with unanimous approval. After seven years of delays and setbacks, Hudson said she’s “very happy” the county has taken the first step toward bringing a tournament-quality soccer facility to Mobile.
“This amenity is needed in our community. It has been for a long time, and it’s exciting to see it finally taking shape,” she said. “It’ll be awhile before we can complete the whole project as it’s envisioned with 10 fields, but I’m hopeful we can get it done in a reasonable amount of time.”
Hudson is using funding for capital improvement projects in her district to pay for the bulk of Phase I, though the county also plans to resurface two roads adjacent t0 the complex and create a turning lane at its entrance. The expected cost of those road improvements aren’t yet known.
The county also plans to use $1.2 million of Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) funding to build a “permeable pavement parking lot.” Some have criticized spending funds intended to mitigate the impact of offshore drilling on a parking lot, but the county maintains that a permeable pavement at the complex will help prevent excessive stormwater runoff.
Hudson recently called the addition of a permeable parking lot a “conservation project.”
While Phase I of the project will only include four fields, Hudson has made it clear she wants to see the other phases come to fruition when the county can find the necessary funding. She also noted the remaining phases can be broken out into smaller projects if they need to be.
“This is just the beginning. So much more is needed,” Hudson told reporters this week. “Now that we’re actually breaking ground, I think people will see this is actually happening, and hopefully that can be a catalyst for more interest in helping us get this project completed.”
At full completion, the Mobile County Soccer Complex would have 10 fields including a championship field with bleachers for spectators as well as concession stands and restroom facilities. Hudson said the county was open to any resource to help fund the later phases.
What the total cost of all three phases will be is still unclear, though the county has given an estimate as part of a submission for possible RESTORE Act funding. According to that proposal, the second and third phases of the project are estimated to cost a combined $17.8 million.
If that wound up being the case, the entire project could cost more than $23 million.
However, Mobile County Director of Public Affairs Katherine Eddy said those proposals are based on a plan that considers the RESTORE Act as the primary funding source. If the project isn’t approved for grant funding, Eddy said the later phases could be scaled down as needed.
The county plans to partner with Mobile United Futbol Club to manage and maintain the facility, but while its initial use will be focused on serving local youth soccer teams, the ultimate goal is to eventually attract regional and possibly even national youth tournaments.
Multi-field complexes in Foley, Orange Beach and Perdido Key, Florida, are already attracting major youth and collegiate tournaments annually, which is why some of the local soccer complex detractors have argued Mobile County will be late to the party by the time it’s completed.
As the executive director of the Mobile Sports Authority, part of Danny Corte’s job will be bringing those types of tournaments to the Port City. Despite the seven-year delay, he still thinks the sports tourism market is ripe enough for a new facility in Mobile to be competitive.
“It’s not too late,” Corte told Lagniappe. “We already have the infrastructure in place. We have the hotels, we have the restaurants, we have the interstate system, we have the airports. For years, the one thing that we’ve been missing has been the facilities themselves.”
Even starting with four fields, Corte said a soccer tournament set in Mobile would likely have seven pitches at its disposal counting the three fields the city owns at Sage Park. He also noted the fields could be used to host tournaments for youth sports like lacrosse and rugby.
“Some of these other places don’t have the supporting infrastructure that Mobile and Mobile County do, and with 13 fields you’re getting into some numbers where we could compete with just about anybody,” Corte said. “We will be poised to go and get some of these bigger regional and statewide tournaments, and working with Mobile United, I think the sky’s the limit.”
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