AP NEWS

Sports center in Orange, an idea whose time has come?

February 1, 2019

Residents of Orange have kicked around the possibility of a sports complex for nearly a decade.

When Mayor Larry Spears took office last year, he decided it was time to finally have an official conversation about it.

“Let’s discuss it and either put it to bed and be done with it or we’ll start to look into it,” he said last week ahead of a public meeting designed to get people focused on the topic.

Residents in attendance gave Spears what he needed to look deeper into the possibility with their seemingly unanimous approval of the idea. Specifics are still to come. It’s unclear, for example, where the complex would be located, though a property of nearly 130 acres donated to the city on Simmons Drive has been a part of the conversation previously.

Here are five things you need to know about the project:

There’s no timeline.

Spears said because the idea is so new, he isn’t sure how long could take before ground could be broken or the complex is finished.

“We’re in the very beginning,” he said. “This is Part 1 of however many parts.”

Spears said the city will now form a committee to gather more input about such details as how many fields to have and what sports to include, among other considerations.

Taxes won’t be the first place the city looks for funding.

“Get everyone to be a part of the process of changing this area,” Spears said. “Get a buy in. When people are involved in something, they take pride in it.”

While the city likely would have one group committed to raising money for the project, it would likely look to local industry, businesses and state and federal grants to build the facility.

“The most important part is we’re not here to raise taxes,” he said. “We’re going to explore every avenue and see just how we can get it and bring it about.”

The sports complex would have two main goals: To help revitalize Orange and to give children a place to go.

The city has been looking for a way to inject new life into the community for years, Spears said, and a sports complex that could bring in tournaments from outside the area could do just that.

It also gives children a place to play, he added, be it in pickup games or an organized league, something that the city doesn’t currently have.

“This is the type of place that changes and has an impact for decades,” he said. “Instead of this kid getting involved in breaking into people’s homes because they have nothing else to do, they were at the courts having a good time. That keeps them out of jail and changes the path of their lives.”

Spears also noted that when making rules, the city plans to keep in mind that families likely will be the complex’s biggest customers. With that, bans on offensive language and drinking could be included.

The complex likely would not be rented out only to the highest bidder.

The complex could pay for itself through rental and other fees from outside groups that want to use it for practices, games or tournaments, Spears said. But the first priority will be for local children.

“First and foremost, this is for our children,” he said. “They will not be kicked to the side because we have to worry about making money on the weekend. They come first.”

Each field would probably have multiple uses.

Soccer and softball fields and a track were just a few suggestions thrown out for the complex during the meeting.

But Spears noted no matter the sports, a key to success of the complex would be ensuring each field has multiple uses and the city’s making the most of the space it has.

“This means soccer fields doubling as football fields and softball fields as a nice space for the community to enjoy,” he said. “The concept here is to use the fields for multiple purposes and separate events that can be held simultaneously.”

Spears said, personally, he’d like to see softball fields also used for a citywide kickball tournament.

Look for more community meetings to discuss the complex’s future.

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain