Mobile County Commissioners got their first look at a preliminary cost estimate for the proposed soccer complex at the cloverleaf of I-65/I-10 last Friday, and at $20.7 million for 10 fields — the price of the complex was the subject of much contention during Monday’s meeting.
The numbers came by way of a master plan created by Neel-Schaffer Inc., which the county commissioned in April to the tune of $18,000. As requested when the study was authorized, those numbers are broken into two proposed phases.
The Commission has approved neither of the two, and in fact, commissioners Jerry Carl and Connie Hudson were at odds during the meeting over whether to accept the master plan at all. Still, representatives from Neel-Schaffer detailed the pricing for the first two phases.
According to their presentation, Phase 1 would include the construction of a championship field, four adult playing fields, a 240-space parking lot, entrances from Halls Mill Road, practices areas and concession and bathroom areas with a price tag of $9.8 million.
Phase 2 would add four additional fields as well as three additional parking areas and could cost approximately $11 million when all is said and done.
All of the prices are broken down with estimated values for earthwork and the construction of roadways, parking lots, water and sewer work, erosion prevention, design fees and other details.
If these numbers are accurate, the total package could cost $20,700,400 without the indoor swimming facility, water park and nature trails that have been discussed over the past several months.
“For the record, the magic number here is $26 million,” Carl said, referring to the additional cost of the land and the fees the county has already paid relate to the project. “My engineers tell me we’ve got the exact same thing for the project I originally proposed at $6.5 million. Paying five times as much for this project is hard to swallow — especially with all the needs we already have.”
Carl was referring to a site near Irvington he originally proposed as a location suitable for a soccer complex. However, after quoting his prices, Senior Engineering Manager for Projects John Murphy told Carl “he didn’t know what he was basing his numbers on.”
Carl also admitted later in the meeting that hadn’t made progress on developing his plan since being told to “step aside” as Commission President Connie Hudson moved forward with the current proposal.
The figures quoted for the construction of two soccer phases do not include the $1.5 million in road projects related to the facility, which the county included in the 2014 Pay-As-You-Go program voters approved Nov. 4. The projects include adding a turning lane at the main entrance to the facility on Halls Mill Road and a widening project on Lee’s Lane.
An additional $70,000 has also been allocated to prepare the property for the sale and to perform environmental services on the site.Not included is the potential $36,000 purchasing option the county has agreed to — an agreement that reserves the county the option of buying the $2.9 million piece of the property where the complex is slated to sit.
A copy of the full report has not yet been provided to Lagniappe, but Murphy did detail the potential costs of some of the other proposed projects at the site when questioned by Carl.
Those numbers included $12 million for the proposed swimming facility and its amenities and an additional $200,000 for the cross country and nature trail area that’s anticipated to run through several acres of wetlands on the property.
Adding the cost of the property to the cost of the soccer facilities and the prices Murphy sited for the swimming facility and cross country trails yields a rough total of $35.8 million without the inclusion of a water park, which was not quoted in Neel-Schaffer’s master plan.
“We provided an area of a little over 13 acres that would provide plenty enough space to adequately supply a water park, whether it be small with just a few splash pads or a full water park,” Murphy said. “We did not do a layout for that, but we’ve seen prices on some smaller facilities at $5 million and we’ve seen as much $30 million spent on water parks in the Southeast.”
No details about the type of water park were discussed, but Hudson did say there has been conversation with several developers about partnering with the county to fund this portion of the project.
“We haven’t been able to follow up on that because it’s too premature, but certainly that would be the endeavor,” Hudson said.
The commission is hoping to receive some outside funding for the project, whether from private partnerships or from government grant programs. The commission has already voted 2-1 to request $40 million of funding through the RESTORE Act, and the city of Mobile has also agreed to give $1.5 million to the project — money originally set aside for improvements to existing city parks.
As for the environmental impact, David Knowles Barry of A. Vittor and Associates said only 2.6 of the more than 88 acres of wetlands would be affected by the construction of the soccer fields. An additional 3.1 acres could be affected if and when the water park feature is added.
Knowles said those figures were based on their research and have yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hudson said the county has taken great care in its planning to make sure as little of the wetlands are disturbed as possible and said several environmental groups have praised their efforts.
Several in attendance were in support of the soccer complex including Chad Harrelson with the Mobile United Football Club, who brought up some of the revenues generated at the soccer facilities in Orange Beach.
Citing a recently published article, Harrelson said Orange Beach has seen an upward trend in sports tourism for its youth and collegiate events. He also said the need in Mobile for an acceptable facility is great.
“This isn’t a build it and they will come situation, this is build it because they’re already here,” he said. “It’s indisputable. This is something that’s got to be done.”
Those opposed to the current plan, including Carl, agreed a facility is desperately needed, but disagreed on how much should be spent on it.
Harrelson said building a quality facility would increase the county’s return on its investment, but more than 20 employees from the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office attended the meeting and several spoke out against such an expensive project being considered in the current economic climate.
“Commissioner Merceria Ludgood spearheaded taking away two holidays from us because money was tight. You changed our insurance plan to a cheaper version and refused to expand an overcrowded and liability-ridden jail because money was tight,” Trey Oliver with the MCSO said. “The concept of a soccer facility is exciting Commissioner Hudson, but so was a cruise terminal and so was BayBears stadium. Whenever the government becomes an entrepreneur, money is wasted. Let’s live within our budget and take care of our personnel needs and our existing liability first.”