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How Gainesville Parks & Rec will honor longtime director Melvin Cooper
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Melvin Cooper speaks during an interview at the Gainesville Civic Center on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Cooper retired after 47 years working for the city and 30 years as parks director. - photo by Austin Steele

A new youth sports complex in Gainesville will be named after longtime city parks director Melvin Cooper, who will be retiring in May after 47 years with Gainesville Parks and Recreation.

“Totally shocked, very humbled and feeling very undeserving,” Cooper said of his reaction to learning the complex would bear his name.

The complex was supposed to be off of Allen Creek Road near the Allen Creek Soccer Complex, but initial drilling hit solid rock at the 190-acre site, land the city already owned.

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A new youth sports complex in Gainesville will be named after Melvin Cooper, longtime parks director, who is retiring in May 2019.

“We’re currently analyzing other locations through the city manager’s office and the city attorney,” Cooper said.

Sales tax funding of $6.75 million has been set aside for the project. The dollars will come from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax VII, a penny sales tax approved by voters in 2015. In 2016, the Gainesville City Council approved $450,000 in impact fee revenue, which comes from new construction fees, for the design of the complex. The Lawrenceville firm Lose & Associates has been hired for the project.

Plans for the complex include six baseball fields, batting cages, a playground and pavilion, trails, and two fields that could be used for football, soccer or lacrosse.

Cooper said travel ball and tournaments at the complex could boost economic development, and having more fields in the city would help with scheduling. Often games are running late into the evening due to a lack of space, he said.

In the department’s 2018 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, 2,365 children participated in youth sports in the city. Youth programs include baseball, softball, lacrosse, volleyball, cross country, cheerleading and tennis.

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