Warner Robins council to buy land for sports complex

chwright@macon.comJanuary 16, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- The Warner Robins sports complex saga has another chapter, one council seems to believe could soon close the book.

After years of debate and indecision, City Council said at a special-called meeting Wednesday that the sports complex is being moved from the northeast part of the city to the north side. It’s a decision one advocate said could be a win-win for his neighborhood.

“As long as we get a sports complex and we get a place for our kids and grandkids to play that they can walk to without crossing any major roads,” said Fred Wilson, a Jefferson Hills resident who has pushed the city to make up its mind about the project.

It seems Wilson and his neighbors will get just that if the newest plan works out.

City Council voted Wednesday to pay $850,000 for 64.9 acres of land at North Houston and Elberta roads. While football fields are built at the old location, baseball fields and other amenities will be built at the new location, according to City Council.

“It’s been a long process to get this done,” said Councilman Mike Davis, who represents the district where the new sports complex would be located. “We’re going to move the sports complex to that area of town and open that area back up.”

The sports complex has been a long embattled, vague project that dates back to the late 1990s. No official plans were ever drafted. The Telegraph could find only conceptual designs that included seven softball fields, a practice field, a football field and a parking lot when a reporter looked into the project in 2011.

Still, 44 acres of trees northwest of Ga. 247 and Russell Parkway, behind Huntington Middle School, were cleared in 2007. Underground pipes were laid. Since then, the project has been dormant.

Residents have pleaded with council to move forward. Council has battled over the best location for the project and whether it was still viable as a tournament site.

Davis said for the past year, he and council have worked to create a clear plan. He said an official design will soon be developed for the new land.

“We’re not going in there willy-nilly with it,” Davis said. “We’re going to build it the way it needs to be done.”

Mayor Chuck Shaheen said he hopes to see dirt turning within 10 months.

He said the new location provides better access, especially after Elberta Road is widened to three lanes. The older location only had one road entering and leaving it, not to mention there’s less natural green space to work with.

“When they clear-cut those fields, they took away all of the greenery,” he said.

There is $1.4 million encumbered from years ago for the project. Also, the 2012 special purpose local option sales tax includes $5 million for a recreation complex and $385,000 for upgrades to athletic fields.

The value of the Houston-Elberta property shown on the Houston County Tax Assessors website is $732,500. Shaheen said the $850,000 purchase price was most likely higher because the assessed values are typically lower than the actual price for land.

Shaheen said Peavy Park, which is across from the new property, will be renovated for softball fields, and the new baseball fields across the street will be a good match.

Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins said the new project could bring more businesses to the older area of town. Councilman Mike Brashear agreed.

“If we, the city, can make the first move in redevelopment,” others are sure to follow, he said.

Councilman Daron Lee said recreation redevelopment could provide a trickle effect to the city, eventually helping decrease crime.

“It’s great to keep the kids engaged,” he said. “Once the kids are engaged, it will engage academics.”

Councilman Mike Daley said the new project idea shows “a commitment to the quality of life.”

Wilson, who Shaheen appointed to the Recreation Board this year, said he looks forward to the first board meeting of the year, where he hopes to learn more about Recreation Director James Dodson’s plan for the new and old sports complex locations. He’s a grandfather of three and great-grandfather of two.

“What we really want in this community is something for our children to go to and play on instead of going all the way across town, which might require transportation (that) most of them may not have,” Wilson said.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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