City officials say they intend to make a big and long delayed decision on recreation at their next council meeting.
For months, the City Council has struggled to come to a consensus on how to move forward on improving recreation facilities. However, in Monday’s precouncil meeting, Councilman Tim Thomas voiced support for a plan that he says has the support of at least three other members, which would be a majority.
It touched off an intense debate in which Councilman Mike Davis accused Thomas of going back on his word. Davis later apologized to Thomas and said he had been overcome by his passion for the subject.
At the center of the debate is a 65-acre tract on North Houston Road at Elberta Road, where the council has discussed putting a sports complex that could have as many as nine baseball/softball fields and a 43,000-square-foot building with two indoor basketball gyms. It was estimated to cost as much as $22 million.
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Wetlands on the tract scaled back the number of ballfields to seven. The plan Thomas supported called for only four ballfields, but it would still have at least two indoor gyms, he said.
Davis had advocated for more ballfields at the site to accommodate travel baseball and softball. He and others say it would be an economic boost for the city by bringing in families from outside that would stay in hotels and spend money here. Supporters say it would also keep dollars at home that are now being spent elsewhere by local families who participate in travel ball.
But Thomas said he doesn’t agree with making travel ball the priority. He said the plan he supports spreads more recreation throughout the city, although Davis said the goal has always been to make comprehensive improvements in recreation, not just building the sports complex.
“The agreement we have come up with is fair for the entire city,” Thomas said. “Every district gets something new, as opposed to $20 million in one location.”
He vowed after the meeting that there will be a vote on the plan at the next meeting, and Mayor Randy Toms also said he wants a decision to be made one way or the other at the next meeting, which is April 17. Toms said he could support either more ballfields at the Houston Road tract or fewer, but he wants a plan approved one way or the other so the city can move forward.
Thomas said the plan he supports calls for Tanner Park to become a football complex. Additionally, Tanner Park, Deloris Tolliver Park, Memorial Park and Ted Wright would all get an indoor gym.
Davis said under that plan the city would have only two more baseball fields than it had in 1974, because some are being eliminated under the plan.
Jarred Reneau, the city’s recreation director, said basketball gyms are the city’s biggest recreation need. He said the city pays the Board of Education $1,000 a week to use school gyms on the weekend. The money is for the staff the schools have to provide to open the gyms.
Reneau said the recreation department now has 14 baseball-softball fields and two of those are not used.
Thomas argued that the city can add ballfields later to the sports complex, although Councilman Keith Lauritsen said it will cost more than if the city did it all at once.
The city is getting $15 million for recreation in the special purpose local option sales tax approved March 21, and it has $4.3 million from the previous sales tax. Thomas said that leaves the city with about $20 million to work with.
Despite the debate Monday, Toms said he is optimistic that a decision will be made at the next meeting.
“We really are close,” Toms said. “And I really think with Mr. Reneau’s work over the next couple of weeks, at the next meeting, we are going to have a plan to put in place that works for everybody.”