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Abilene Reporter-News (Texas)
The Abilene City Council voted Thursday to table a lease agreement between the Abilene Youth Sports Authority and the city for a future sports complex.
The item will return at the next City Council meeting so that language can be clarified to deal with previous concerns by some council members regarding potential competition between the sports complex and other facilities, which do not receive taxpayer dollars.
On March 24, 2016, the Abilene City Council authorized a memorandum of agreement with the AYSA for a youth sports facility at Nelson Park.
The city agreed to provide cash and in-kind contributions not to exceed $1.67 million. That participation is limited to site and utilities, landscaping and other infrastructure.
Councilman Shane Price said Thursday that several council members expressed concerns during a 2016 meeting that had not been addressed.
"We were asked to partner with the AYSA to provide a long-term lease of part of Nelson Park for a proposed indoor court facility," Price said in an email Thursday. "In addition to the land use, we were also asked to dedicate $1.67 million of tax funding to supplement the amount they would fundraise, a minimum of $8.5 million."
In the proposal's packet of information was also a description of an indoor retractable turf surface, Price said.
"My concern was we have had three facilities open recently with an indoor turf," he said. "Each of these is a for-profit business paying property taxes and charging rates for usage that has to include that cost in the model."
In addition, there were proposed uses that would compete with what is offered by local gymnastic centers, he said.
"I'm uncomfortable taking tax money from businesses like these that are paying property taxes to bring in a new venue that has the distinct possibility of competing with them as a nonprofit that isn't having to pay property taxes," Price said.
Councilman Kyle McAlister said he felt the council in 2016 "walked away with an understanding that the AYSA facility wouldn't have 'turf,'" and would not compete with local entities such as PrimeTime for sports such as indoor soccer.
"The AYSA facility would be for volleyball and basketball," McAlister said.
During the meeting, Councilman Steve Savage said that he, too, recalled "concern about (the facility) competing with private entities that aren't getting $1.6 million in taxpayer subsidies."
The city's agreement to participate was contingent on the AYSA successfully raising the necessary funds to construct the facility and provide an endowment for the operations and maintenance of the facility.
AYSA has raised $10.8 million in confirmed donations, said Jon Smith, the organization's executive director.
Smith said after the meeting that "it seems like some of the council members just wanted a little more definitive wording on the lease that we are not competing with any other entities."
"Really we're not — but sometimes it can get confusing when you're talking sports in general," he said. "Our plans are to just get with the city attorney and make sure that a redrafted lease agreement has the proper wording."
City Attorney Stanley Smith confirmed during Thursday's meeting that there were no use restrictions in the present lease.
The community has demonstrated that no businesses are willing to invest in indoor courts -basketball and volleyball, Price said.
"So I am excited about the possibility of this facility becoming a reality using this public/private partnership," he said of AYSA complex. "I just believe we should include safeguards to prevent siphoning tax dollars from some to establish tax-exempt competition."
Smith told the council that he felt some "struggle" with placing restrictions on what AYSA can do with the facility.
"We are focusing on what the city does not have, and that is multiple-court facilities," he said. "The only thing with retractable turf as needed would be to continue some indoor soccer skills camps we've been doing for five to six years for the community."
But restricting retractable tuft would not "destroy our operating procedure, our operating costs," Smith said.
"It's not a major factor of our daily operations in any means," he said. "... I understand the concern. We're not trying to compete with a private entity."
Smith said that tabling the discussion to the council's next meeting would not adversely affect the project's timeline.
McAlister said after the meeting that he was "torn."
"I see the need for us not to use taxpayer dollars to compete with private companies," he said. "I also don't want to 100 percent limit what this new facility can or cannot do. But I am confident that something can be worked out."
McAlister, who is paid on a part-time basis to schedule PrimeTime's adult indoor soccer games and line up referees, noted that he is "100 percent behind the new AYSA facility."
"I think this is a two-week hiccup that is unfortunate, but that we will fix," he said. "I do honestly believe that the entire council wants this project to become a reality."
Once constructed, the facility should bring in an estimated 200,000 people each year, generating more than $4 million in tourism spending, Smith said.
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