City still searching for workable solution to athletic field shortage


By Gary Gray

The search to find a workable plan to fit the city’s needs for more diamond-shaped and rectangular fields continued last week in a second Johnson City Parks and Recreation Advisory Board/City Commission meeting.

Again, both the message and response was that space is needed and that the priority is to serve citizens first. Also, any expenditures for complexes and substantial expansions beyond that goal should only be placed on city-owned land.

Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis and Daniel Boutte, a senior landscape architect with Knoxville’s Lose & Associates, introduced three new options. The first, a configuration of five softball fields on 60 acres of land off Indian Ridge Road owned by Grant Summers.

This nearly $10 million option — not including the land purchase or contingency — includes chain-link fencing, lighting, dugouts, pavilion, parking, green space, concessions and a walking path. The second option involves six soccer (rectangular) fields on the site with many of the same amenities and a roughly $11 million price tag minus the cost of the property and a contingency fund.

A third offering is the overlay of two, 225-foot softball fields on an existing soccer field at Winged Deer Park. This layout includes an asphalt walking trail that would connect to existing trails, as well as the park’s scoring tower. Ellis said this option would accommodate up to college-level play.

Ellis also updated commissioners on the feasibility of placing one to two fields at each of Johnson City’s eight elementary schools. This plan, as was the case at last month’s Advisory Board meeting, was not a popular one due to likely inconveniences for city students and residents.

Constructing one soccer field at Lions Park at the cost of one Little League field also is on the table. This too, was met with little enthusiasm.

Nothing was set in stone at meeting’s end. Ellis will revisit the possibility of placing fields on the Winged Deer waterfront property. He and Boutte will gather more information on available city-owned property of 10 acres or more and will also look further into placing fields at elementary schools. The discussion will pick back up at a meeting in January.

Board members last month introduced their preference at that time: A 37-acre site adjacent to Winged Deer Park owned by Joe Wilson and a neighboring 24 acres owned by the Sells family — a sports complex, or “one-stop-shop,” with four to five baseball/softball fields and several rectangular fields. Commissioners did not receive the suggestion well due to an estimated build-out cost of more than $22 million.

“I think it’s safe to say the Wilson property is not being seriously considered by those who would fund it,” City Commissioner Joe Wise said about the hefty cost.

Johnson City Mayor David Tomita also made his intentions clear.

“I’m sorry, the Wilson property is out for me,” he said. “It’s too expensive.”

The latest appraisal on the Wilson property was about $1.4 million, but City Manager Pete Peterson has said that number has gone up significantly.

In the most recent joint meeting, the Sells agreed to sell the 24 acres to the city for $30,000 an acre and add an additional 11 acres which included Bristol Highway frontage for $1.1 million, bringing the total price of that property to about $1.8 million.

Ellis said two to four youth diamond-shaped fields could be placed on that property, but the commissioners did not carry the conversation further.

“Let’s stop with this,” Tomita said following the introduction of numerous options, including downsizing the number of fields on the 60-acre property. “Let’s narrow it down to a couple things and move on. We don’t want to look at every single option one at a time. Let’s not reconvene just to say, ‘No, that won’t work.’ ”

Another possibility is partnering with Washington County. On Nov. 21, the Athletic Facility Task Force discussed minute scheduling details at the county’s coming 35-acre athletic complex near the new Boones Creek K-8. But it ended in a consensus that, if Johnson City and Washington County are going to partner in its construction and use, a private engineering or architectural firm should step in to provide detailed costs.

County Mayor Dan Eldridge has said the facility currently has an $8 million price tag, which includes the land purchase, grading and construction of four diamond-shaped fields and a soccer/football field with a track. But the county wants the city to pay for lighting, irrigation and grounds maintenance at the facility.

“In my opinion, the Boones Creek deal looked like athletic fields crammed onto a school complex,” Boutte said.

The task force is set to meet again at 6 p.m. on Dec. 13 at Winged Deer Park.


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