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Gainesville officials hope to start work on regional athletic complex
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Forsyth County News

GAINESVILLE — Gainesville recreation officials are ready to start developing their idea for a “regional” park complex. They have appropriated $450,000 for design work on the complex that they said will be a long-term, multiyear project.

Melvin Cooper, director of recreation, and Michael Graham, deputy director, made a presentation Tuesday to the Hall County special purpose local option sales tax citizens review committee.

The committee is a group formed after complaints about how previous tax collections were spent on infrastructure projects. The duo emphasized the need, demand and economic impact of the proposed complex.

Six baseball/softball fields with associated parking, concessions and restrooms are a scaled-down version of the first phase of the park.

The park is proposed for a 190-acre site near Monroe Drive and Allen Creek Road and across the road from the soccer complex at Allen Creek Road.

Cooper noted the money allocated for the first phase — $6.75 million — is not enough to pay for the city’s first version of plans. Two multipurpose fields and some parking were eliminated, and the city has approved using $450,000 in impact fees to get the total to $7.2 million.

Cooper said finding the rest of the funding remains an open question.

But Graham and Cooper emphasized the city’s interest in starting the planning and design in this fiscal year so that construction can follow as soon as possible.

The eventual plan for the site would include a tennis complex, community center with indoor and outdoor basketball courts, the multipurpose fields and walking trails.

That is according to a master plan developed by city officials. It carries an estimated cost of $12 million to $14 million.

Members of the review committee were generally positive about the plans, with two exceptions.

Doug Aiken questioned the financial feasibility of the project, and Brent Hoffman said, “Other than the fact that it is city-owned, I can’t think of a worse location.”

Cooper noted the location is near Interstate 985 and is “basically the center of Hall County.”

Graham pointed out the soccer complex, which is jointly operated by the county and city, has a good record of attracting crowds for participation and spectators.

Frank Norton Jr., chair of the committee, complimented city officials for developing a master plan and admitting it cannot all be done right away.

Cooper and Graham noted no new recreation fields have been built in the city since 1984. Since then, Graham said, the city’s population has doubled and participation in the youth programs has doubled.

Cooper said such a complex also would have an economic impact. He said a single multiday tournament could generate about $500,000.

Graham said that Lanier Point, a city facility, has 43 tournaments scheduled for 2016 and 19 of those are for multiple days. Those 19 would generate nearly $10 million in economic benefit, he said.