Plans for a $26 million youth sports complex that backers say could bring thousands of visitors to Lexington are in flux because a possible site for the multisport tournament-level complex is in doubt.
A 130-acre parcel of city-owned land between Versailles and Parkers Mill roads was identified as a potential location for the park more than 18 months ago. But state Transportation Cabinet officials recently said Parkers Mill Road would have to be widened to accommodate the increase in traffic on the already-taxed road. That would cost millions of dollars that aren’t in the state’s road budget. Parkers Mill is a state-owned road.
Lexington general services commissioner Geoff Reed said the site hasn’t been officially scratched from the list of potential sites.
“There are large obstacles that remain for making it a viable option,” Reed said. “It would cost several millions of dollars to widen Parkers Mill. That’s not high on the state transportation’s priority list right now.”
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Neighbors have strongly opposed developing a park at the site, which is nextto Cardinal Run Park. Traffic is a top concern.
Reed, who oversees parks, said other sites are being explored.
“Something could still develop at another location,” Reed said. “The funding has to be very seriously discussed.”
Mayor Jim Gray and the Urban County Council set aside $7 million in bond money for the park in the current-year budget. The city hasn’t yet issued the bonds because of concerns about the site and questions about financing.
“None of the $7 million has been issued or spent,” Reed said.
Gray is scheduled to unveil his proposed budget Tuesday for the upcoming fiscal year. It’s not clear whether Gray will recommend financing the project again for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Reed said he couldn’t say what was in Gray’s proposed budget.
Some on the Urban County Council have also raised concerns about the financing for the project and whether the city would receive any tax benefit if it spent city money to build the park. Taxes from hotels, restaurants and retails shops goes to the state or to tourism-related agencies, not city coffers.
Others on the council have said the park has the potential to be a major tourism draw and would fill Lexington hotels and restaurants during times when occupancy is low. Fayette County kids wouldn’t have to travel out of state or to youth sports parks in Elizabethtown to play in youth soccer, softball, football or baseball tournaments. Tournament-quality playing fields for youth sports in Fayette County are scarce, youth sports officials have long said.
The Bluegrass Sports Commission, a nonprofit that promotes sports in Central Kentucky, has spearheaded efforts to build the sports park. A Bluegrass Sports Commission study projected the economic impact at $23 million in its first year. The commission said it would provide $6.5 million in private donations, mainly in naming rights and other sponsorships. The commission had asked the city for $18.75 million last year. Gray and the council eventually agreed to set aside $7 million with the caveat that the bond money wouldn’t be issued until details — particularly the financing — were hammered out.
Brian Miller, president and CEO of the commission, said this week that commission officials are trying to find the best place for the park and continue to have discussions with the city.
“This remains a valuable project for Lexington and Central Kentucky,” Miller said. “ We will continue to explore all options to ensure that we can make this critical economic development project a reality.”