Yet another study has been approved related to the Mobile County Commission’s planned soccer and aquatic complex near the intersection of I-65 and I-10, this one costing just under $48,000.
Commissioners voted 2-1 this morning to approve an agreement with the Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) to conduct a marketability study over the next 12 to 18 weeks that will ultimately help shape a business plan for the proposed county-owned facility.
The goal is to give the county an idea of the most productive and cost-effective ways to construct and operate the facility, and to provide commissioners with solid numbers to use in their quest to find private investors for the project, which could cost more than $40 million.SFA’s owner Eric Sullivan told commissioners Thursday his company’s study would create a business plan and help outline the county’s best course of action from a financial standpoint. Commission President Connie Hudson said the new study, the eighth since the project was first pitched, would be the most comprehensive yet.
The funds will be used from Hudson’s District 2 Capital Improvement Fund — monies initially allocated for park development.
“The results of this study will show us the best way to operate and market the facility, and will give us everything we need to know to move forward,” Hudson said. “It gives us a financial forecast which is information we can use to engage private investment, and that’s important.”
Hudson and District 1 Commissioner Merceria Ludgood voted in favor of the study. Commissioner Jerry Carl opposed the new study and expressed disapproval of the project’s costs to date and with SFA’s management arm, Sports Facilities Management, which operates some of the facilities SFA has worked with previously.
“Our management fee ranges from $9,000 a month to $30,000 for the different complexes we manage,” Sullivan said. “We certainly don’t manage all the facilities we work with, but given the opportunity, I think you’ll find all of our facilities exceed national benchmarks.”
Hudson told Lagniappe the county has no plans to partner with SFA/SFM to manage the facility at this time, but didn’t rule out a possibility of a private organization taking the day-to-day operation of the proposed facility off the county’s hands.
“When the time comes, I’m sure we’ll put out a Request For Proposals for that, but right now we need to get our comprehensive market analysis and business plan taken care of,” Hudson said.As has been the theme of commissioners’ soccer discussions, Carl and Hudson were at odd over the amount of money the county has spent on the project to date. Carl has more or less opposed any motion related to the I-65 location for the soccer complex — which was Hudson’s idea — since the commission voted not to pursue a soccer site he proposed in his district.
So far, the county has paid for seven studies related to a county soccer complex that have totaled $257,430. The additional $47,500 awarded to SFA brings that total to just under $305,000, which Carl said was a lot considering the county “had nothing to show for it.”
“Part of that money, over $50,000, was spent to compare two competing sites, if you recall,” Hudson said to Carl. “If we were not having to compare sites, it wouldn’t be at that total.”
Carl quickly fired back saying, “If we didn’t have to compare sites, we’d be playing soccer out in irvington right now.”
In discussion some of SFA’s previous work, Sullivan mentioned projects funded by multiple municipalities, counties and private organizations. The proposed location falls within the city of Mobile, and Hudson said certainly any economic benefit through hotels, restaurant would benefit the city as well as the county.
“This should obviously be a major benefit to the city coffers, and in terms of an economic develop opportunity, I think this is prime,” Hudson said. “Hopefully, this study will show that to them.”
Regardless of the financials, the outcome of SFA’s study will significantly affect some of the details of the soccer complex’s facilities and its operation. The study will offer recommendations based on the county’s established goals and could ultimately determine who gets to use the facilities and when, how much using the fields will cost local teams and even more direct decision for players like what type of turf will be used as the playing surfaces on the 10 pitches.
The results of SFA’s study should be back in commissioners’ hands in less than 18 weeks, but no official timeline is set. The data collected from the data will include financial forecasts and cost/benefit analyses Hudson is hopeful will help to attract private investors for the portions of the proposed complex, but she also said the county isn’t opposed to taking on some of project phases without the private sector.
“The county is looking for an opportunity to engage private investors, but that’s not going to inhibit us from moving forward into the first phase of this project,” Hudson said. “I’m looking at the water park really in terms of trying to engage private investment., but of course I’d like it for the soccer complex as well.”
Updated Feb. 20 at 4:16 p.m. to correct typographical errors.