By Gary Gray
An 11-member Athletic Facility Task Force met for the first time Monday to see if Johnson City’s expanding want for athletic tournaments and Washington County’s coming 35-acre athletic complex could mesh.
The $2.3 million to $3.3 million 35-acre facility is planned adjacent to the 21-acres on which the new Boones Creek K-8 will be built at Highland Church Road and Boones Creek Road. County Commission Chair Greg Matherly and Johnson City Mayor David Tomita created the group.
Formed in August, the task force finally met in the Washington County Schools Central Office conference room. There were no signs of dissension. No pushing and pulling. Members spoke respectfully and listened intently.
“I’m going to ask: What’s our task here?” asked Danny Good, Daniel Boone High School athletic director.
This is the premise: The county builds the currently planned four softball/baseball fields, two-level scoring tower and football/soccer field with seating for 1,000. Johnson City, in turn, manages, operates, markets and uses the facility in conjunction with the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and perhaps the Town of Jonesborough, and everyone wins – maybe.
In early 2016, National Association of Sports Commissions Executive Director Donald Schumacher told city commissioners that adding ten 50-team softball tournaments could bring in $6 million a year if at least four new fields were constructed, according to a sports facilities study.
Those numbers are important. The county plans at least four diamond-shaped fields, and $6 million a year can buy a lot of popcorn, depending on the split.
“Clearly, we’d like to see the city meet its goals,” Matherly said. “In talking with Mayor Tomita, our goal was to bring the city and county together to benefit the citizens – before we build it.”
Architect Tony Street revealed plans showing the diamond-shaped fields and football/soccer fields placed on two sides of the school.
Plans reveal about 220 parking spaces that could be used for sporting events, or school parking. Street also said the county could negotiate to buy an additional 50 to 60 acres should that become a recommendation.
“When we get finished, we make a recommendation,” said County Commissioner Bryan Davenport. “It’s not a decision; it’s a recommendation.”
The lot on which the new $23.5 million Boones Creek K-8 is being built, was subdivided soon after the purchase, and the athletic facility is considered a county development unrelated to the school or education.
That means the county will not have to share (maintenance of effort law) money bonded to build the facility. If the function of that land were for school purposes, the county would have had to borrow more than $6 million to pay Johnson City its share.
The task force chose co-chairs: Todd Fowler and county Board of Education member Clarence Mabe. The group will meet next at 6 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Winged Deer Park. They will meet again on Nov. 21. A site for that meeting has not been chosen.