Lebanon’s Sports Complex Committee is making progress on a phasing plan for the proposed athletic park on U.S. 231 after balking at a $35.9 million total cost estimate in November.
Under the current draft, the first phase would include five soccer fields with parking to support them at an estimated $6.7 million to $7.5 million, along with a walking trail.
“What we’re doing is taking three of the soccer fields out for later,” committee chair Rick Smith of Lebanon Youth Baseball said. “Phase 2 would be the baseball and softball fields, and phase 3 would be the second set of soccer fields. Phase 4 would be the office complex.”
Soccer is the city’s priority because local participation has increased enough to outgrow the Wilson United Soccer League’s current space, while the baseball/softball fields are projected to bring the largest economic impact.
The baseball/softball fields would also be the most expensive to build, so the committee plans to ask project consultant Barge Design Solutions for estimates on multiple phase 2 options: eight grass fields, eight turf fields and 12 turf fields. If the city opts to build only eight fields in phase 2, the remaining four will be included in phase 3.
The committee also intends to meet with county officials to ask if they can contribute funding to the project.
“We now have more concrete information to share,” committee member and City Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman said of the timing. “Before it was kind of a pie in the sky, now we have numbers and plans.”
With costs and phases taking shape, the major factor remaining is a timeline, which committee member Wayne Oakley of Lebanon Girls Softball Association said ties directly into economic impact.
“Here’s the problem,” he said. “We release Barge today, it’s the spring of 2022 to play. Then you take five more years and do another design, and go through two more years of construction. Now we’re 10 years out, and at that point in time we might as well not build anything because everybody else is going to have a field.”
Oakley said that Smyrna is slated to have turf fields this spring, and his concern is that Lebanon will have to compete against several established parks by the time it has its own.
“I really feel like Lebanon’s going to sit here once again like, ‘we could have, should have done this but we didn’t,’” he said. “With the economic revenue that could be generated, would it be possible that what we’re calling phase 2 could be included with phase 1?”
Sports Facilities Advisory, LLC projected that the entire complex would generate $5.3 million in its first year and $10.5 million in the fifth year through hotels, restaurants and other sources of revenue.
The Richard Siegel Soccer Complex in Murfreesboro is expected to prevent the soccer fields from becoming a significant tournament draw, but project consultants are confident in the potential for baseball and softball events.
“What worries me some is when we tell people, ‘hey, we’re building this sports complex and you’re going to see economic impact,’ if soccer is all we do you really don’t see that,” Lebanon Recreation Director William Porter said. “You’re looking at one thing that meets our needs as a community, and the other one is more of an economic driver. That’s the difference that you’ve got to talk about and see in my mind.”
Cost is the largest hurdle when it comes to the baseball/softball fields. That portion of the project is expected to make up a significant amount of the $35.9 million estimate, and Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said the city’s budget is approximately $40 million.
“We need more revenue streams, and I think we do need to talk to the county and Mt. Juliet and see if, now that Mt. Juliet knows their people are coming over here to play, they wouldn’t be willing to help,” he said. “If we can get some help with that, it would go a long way.”
Committee members did identify potential roadblocks for that funding, including the upcoming sales tax referendum and some interest in building a similar facility at the county level. At present, the county has not taken any action geared toward starting a project.
The committee hopes to present a plan to the Lebanon City Council on April 16, so the results of the sales tax referendum are available for consideration.
“If we build it and we were to shoulder a lot of it, the county still gets the economic benefit,” committee member James Herren of the Wilson United Soccer League said. “I would argue that you’re not going to get a whole lot better location than this as far as being centrally located.”