Last week the Mobile County Commission voted to change the parameters of an option agreement related to the purchase of 116 acres at the northeast corner of Interstate 65 at Interstate 10 – an area that could serve as a county-owned soccer and sports complex in future.

Attorney Jay Ross said a group of approximately 13 property owners could not come together to finalize an agreement the commission opted to pursue in May.

“We believed we had an agreement with all the parties, but when it came down to signing the contracts, all of the perspective owners would not unanimously consent to buying the property back,” Ross said.

If the county had purchased the $2.96 million property, the pervious agreement would have required the current landowners to buy it back at the purchase price if the county had not developed it after five years. The option would have also secured the property for up to a year through a refundable payment of $10,000.

The new agreement still secures the property for a year, but only for an initial cost of $6,000. After that, the county will have option to purchase up to three four-month options for $10,000 a piece. It also gives the original property owners the “option to buy the property back at fair market value” but does not require them to.

“If the county elects to buy the property, that $36,000 can be use against purchase price, but if not, that money would be lost,” Ross said. “That had to be changed otherwise we would not have had an agreement, but the purchase price does not change.”

The lack of a refund for the purchasing option is one of the main changes, but Ross said the new agreement has been approved by all of the lawyers representing the various parties.

Now that the purchasing option is secured, Commission President Connie Hudson said engineers would soon begin working to determine the environmental effects and the “true budget figures” of developing the 11-pitch soccer complex.

Real estate agencies White-Spunner and Berg and Company currently own the property, and have previously agreed to donate nearly 80 acres to the county. The majority of donated area, which will be a tax write-off for agencies, is connected to the Wragg Swamp and is considered wetlands – making environmental preservation a concern.

Both Hudson and Ross have stated previously that the wetlands would not be developed in anyway.

The commission has already agreed to an $18,000 engineering contract with Neel-Schafer Inc. to develop a master plan and make a budget for the project. John Murphy, a former assistant engineer for the county, is leading that project.

An additional $70,000 has also been allocated to prepare the property for the sale and to perform environmental services on the site.

“We should know within a year where we’re going to stand as far getting permits,” Hudson said. “We believe two years is certainly ample time to (make a decision).”

Ross said permits from the Alabama Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be required to proceed with the development of the property.

He also said the environmental concerns and making sure adequate funding is available have made the two-year purchasing window appealing to the county.

“The funding to actually buy (the property) is pretty much there, but we don’t know a specific dollar amount for what it will cost to develop it,” he said. “I’m told it could take nine to 12 months get the figures and environmental concerns settled, but it could be longer. That’s why we built in more time in.”

When that information is nailed down, Ross said the commission would “presumptively” buy the property, “provided they are comfortable with the price to develop the complex.”

Over the past few months, the price of development has caused some tension between Hudson and Commissioner Jerry Carl, who submitted his own plan to build a soccer complex in south Mobile County earlier in the year.
Carl has repeatedly said the current plan, which was proposed by Hudson, would cost $20 million to develop – a figure he is basing off of a study performed by Hargrove Engineers. He has also maintained his original plan would have cost only $5 million.

However, Hudson has consistently disputed both of those figures. In March, Hudson estimated her project would only cost $12.1 million.

“The study by Hargrove was very broad-based and wasn’t able to come up with a number this commission can use as a baseline to decide whether or not they wish to purchase (the property),” Ross said. “We’ve also got people looking now for additional funding sources such as new market tax credits, bonds, and grants and the federal, state and local level.”

Ross said more would be known about those additional funding sources in the coming months.