Nov. 5 update: The Gainesville City Council voted to purchase 89 acres for its new youth sports complex. Councilwoman Ruth Bruner was absent Tuesday, and all other council members approved the request.
Previous story: Gainesville has chosen a site off Old Cornelia Highway for its new youth sports complex, a project years in the making.
The city plans to purchase 89 acres at 2490 Old Cornelia Highway near White Sulphur Elementary School for the facility, which will have fields for baseball, softball, football, soccer and lacrosse, along with playgrounds, a pavilion and trails. The property is just inside city limits, and the agreed purchase price is $777,875. The Gainesville City Council will vote on the purchase Tuesday, and after a due diligence period, closing on the property is expected in January.
The complex will be named after Melvin Cooper, the city’s longtime parks director who retired in May.
The property is owned by two separate public pension funds in Louisiana, and Louisiana State Treasurer John Schroder helped the city arrange the sale, City Manager Bryan Lackey said.
Officials hope the ability to host larger youth sporting events could drive development in east Gainesville. That side of town has seen other growth in recent years, including the new Lanier Technical College campus off Ga. 365 and several restaurant and shopping options along Jesse Jewell Parkway near Limestone Parkway.
“It’s going to be a great amenity to our youth. … Attendance (at tournaments) is unbelievable, and when they go out of town, they spend money,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said.
A baseball tournament held in Gainesville in 2013 was attended by 2,400 people and had an economic impact of about $350,000 over two and a half days, according to Lackey’s presentation Thursday.
Parks Director Kate Mattison said that while the city already has several parks with facilities for youth sports, parks tend to get full quickly.
“We’re always maximized on the space, so we need some more space, and it’s an opportunity to be able to actually host some outside teams as well,” she said. “We don’t really have the space to do that, especially for youth.”
The timeline has not been finalized yet, and the city will need to finish the park design and do some surveying of the land, Mattison said.
Some $6.75 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funding has been set aside for the project.
The complex was first planned for a property off Allen Creek Road near the Allen Creek Soccer Complex, but in 2017, initial drilling hit solid rock at that site, which the city had already owned. Lackey said removing the rock would have used up about a third of the project budget, so the city decided to look for a new site.
In the parks department’s 2018 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, 2,365 children participated in youth sports. Youth programs include baseball, softball, lacrosse, volleyball, cross country, cheerleading and tennis.