A nonprofit sports group wants the city to contribute $18.75 million for a 134-acre youth sports complex near Versailles and New Circle roads.
The Bluegrass Sports Commission, which promotes sports in Central Kentucky, has agreed to raise $6.25 million for the $25 million complex that would host tournaments. A recently released economic impact study showed that over 20 years the complex could generate $450 million in spending at Lexington hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Elizabethtown and Bowling Green have built similar complexes.
The commission identified a proposed site between Versailles and Parkers Mill roads. The site is owned by the city, is outside New Circle Road and is adjacent to Cardinal Run South, a city-owned baseball field. Although the designs aren’t final, the site has room for more than 20 sports fields. The tentative plan calls for a playground as well as walking tracks that would connect to area trails.
Members of the Bluegrass Sports Commission presented the plans Tuesday at the Urban County Council’s work session. The council did not vote on the proposal.
Brian Miller, president and CEO of the commission, told the council the group has begun fundraising, mainly through corporate sponsorships such as naming rights and rights offered to soft drink companies to sell exclusively at the park.
“We have received verbal commitments for $6.25 million,” he said.
Miller said Lexington is ideally situated to capitalize on regional youth sports tournaments because it sits at the intersection of two major interstates. Lexington parents travel hundreds of miles and spend thousands of dollars taking their kids to other cities for tournaments. But Lexington also needs more fields for youth practices. According to the commission’s data, 43,275 kids play youth sports in Lexington. Fayette County’s public schools need the field space for practice during the week, Miller said.
The tentative plan calls for a third party to operate the sports complex, which would cost about $1.5 million a year. “They would guarantee the operational cost if it operates at a deficit,” Miller said. He said many youth sports complexes operate at a deficit.
According to initial data, the facility probably would not turn a profit until after the fifth year, Miller said.
Under the proposal, the organization would lease the land from the city for $1 a year.
Melissa Bacon, chairwoman of the Fayette County school board, told the council Tuesday that public school teams are running out of practice fields. Since each high school has only one football field, multiple teams — football, soccer and lacrosse — are vying to practice on the same field, sometimes at the same time, she said.
Many members of the Urban County Council said they supported the project and understood the need and potential economic impact. But many had questions about funding, traffic and how the complex might affect city parks.
Councilman Fred Brown said he wanted to see all the corporate deals finalized and made public before the council gives its approval.
“The project looks great,” he said. But the city is looking at other capital projects as well.
“I see these things that need to be answered or addressed before we make a commitment,” Brown said.
When Vice Mayor Steve Kay asked whether the general public could use the fields, Miller said the fields probably would be reserved for teams with a lease.
Councilwoman Angela Evans asked if more hotels would have to be built near the complex. Evans also said she didn’t want city-owned parks to lose their sports teams.
Additionally, several council members asked whether the Fayette County Public Schools was going to put any of its money into the project. Miller did not say how much the schools have committed, and Councilman Bill Farmer said the city would need to know that before the council could back the project.
“We don’t have anything inked or in writing yet,” Miller said. “That number has not been finalized. We aren’t ready to publicly announce that.”
Councilman Kevin Stinnett said he supported the project.
“This is the biggest economic development endeavor outside of downtown,” Stinnett said. “This is an overdue project in my opinion. Other cities have benefited from our sports teams.”
Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer, declined to say after Tuesday’s presentation whether the project would be in Mayor Jim Gray’s upcoming budget, which is to be unveiled April 5. The council has until June 30 to approve the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The idea for a youth sports complex has been discussed for more than a decade. The commission announced in February 2015 that it would pay for an economic analysis to determine how much money and how many tournaments a multisport complex would generate. The cost of the $50,000 economic impact study was split between the commission and VisitLex, the city’s tourism bureau.