With $30,000 on the line, the Mobile County Commission is moving into the final 120 days of a now thrice-extended option to purchase a 116-acre parcel of land at the intersection of Interstates 65 and 10, where a $40 million soccer/aquatic complex is slated for construction.
The $2.96 million property was owned by real estate agencies White-Spunner and Berg and Company when the $10,000 purchasing option was first exercised in May 2014.Planning and engineering for the 14-field complex have already been outlined, but getting the project properly permitted has taken longer than originally anticipated. As a result, the commission has voted to extend the option to buy the property twice — each with a $10,000 price tag.
In the agreement, any deposits to hold the county’s option are included in the purchase price, but the original agreement only allows for three extensions. On Thursday morning, County Attorney Jay Ross said if the sale isn’t finalized by the end of June, the county will lose the $30,000.
“If we’re able to buy the property during the third option, that $30,000 would be part of the purchase price, but If the third option expires and we are unable to close or somehow extend it, these dollars would not be reimbursed,” Ross said, clarifying the agreement for Commission President Jerry Carl.
The only remaining hurdle for the project is a construction permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The county submitted an application for the permit in February 2015 — a process that was expected to take around four months at the time.
After several months of “give and take,” the Corps finally informed the county it would have to perform an additional study after old milk bottles with possible historic significance were discovered on the property. The $55,000 study has been completed, but the results are still being evaluated by USACE.Despite the time crunch, Commissioner Connie Hudson — who has championed the project — said she had been in conversation with the commanding officer of UASCE’s Mobile District and is confident the county will soon be able to move forward.
“I had a conversation yesterday with [Col. Jon J. Chytka], and he told me they were in the final stages and he anticipated this would go to the state historical commission in short order,” Hudson said. “My understanding is this permit would be granted after that. So, I think we’re at the very final stages of this. Finally.”
Though she couldn’t give an exact timeline, Hudson told Lagniappe the county responded to some of the Corps’ final inquiries last week and expects to have the necessary permits “very soon.”The vote on Thursday passed 2 to 1 — with votes from Hudson and District 1 Commissioner Merceria Ludgood. As he did with previous extensions, Carl gave a “no” vote.
Carl has vocally opposed the soccer complex as it’s proposed, over what he says are concerns with its location and cost. However, Carl also originally lobbied for a smaller facility in his own district near Irvington that led to a $50,000 comparative study of the two sites.
According to county officials, Thursday’s vote extending the purchasing agreement brings the project’s total cost so far to around $450,000 — money that has paid for engineering, planning and studies of the complex’s feasibility, environmental impact and potential economic benefit.