By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On October 18, the Etowah County Mega Sports Complex Authority announced a big step forward in the plans for the multi-purpose recreational facility. The authority announced the location for the primary complex on property off Steele Station Road near Lumbley Road with potential access to U.S. Highway 77.
The authority has purchased 139 acres at this location using existing revenue.
“The property is strategically located adjacent to other property owned by two different municipalities [Gadsden and Rainbow City],” said Authority Chair Ralph Burke. “This gives the Sports Authority partnership options in the future.”
The authority said that the proposed complex’s proximity to Gadsden, Rainbow City and Attalla will spur economic activity in Etowah County.
“We have got a plan in place,” said State Representative Craig Ford. “We’ve got the land in place. We’ve got it free and clear. We have it geographically located where it would bring in the most economic dollars.”
Ford said that if you go up Steele Station Road from the complex and take a left, Attalla businesses, including Wal-Mart are located there, so Attalla would benefit.
If you take a right, you encounter Gadsden hotels, where families are likely to stay while traveling to the complex for games. The complex’s proximity to U.S. Highway 77, also makes Rainbow City easily accessible. Ford went on to say that the site has multiple accesses available.
“We are going to contribute to all municipalities sales tax,” said Ford. “Which in turn helps our education system and helps small business owners.”
“It is documented that youth sports alone in the United States is over a one billion dollar a year industry,” said Burke. “People are driving by Etowah County to get to suitable fields, and we’re losing revenue.”
The authority members cited complexes in other parts of Alabama where tournaments are held, stating that the only thing these places have that Gadsden does not is a sports complex. The members also noted that economic development follows the construction of the complexes. Authority treasurer Hugh Miller said that in Boaz, he knows at least one restaurant that uses game schedules to create his restaurants’ work schedules.
“There aren’t enough facilities in Etowah County right now for soccer,” said Ford. “They have over 800 kids playing soccer and they are looking for grass pasture to play that is safe and feasible. And then they play these teams that are coming from Mobile and Montgomery and they have said they will not come back here, because we don’t have the facilities. So our kids have to travel on the home games, so they are playing away and away. The money we are losing is unbelievable.”
Ford said that the complex can also offer an improvement in quality of life.
In addition to providing safe fields for the kids in the area, the authority hopes to offer activities for special needs children as well.
“If you go and watch one game on the Field of Dreams with those special needs children, it will change your life,” said Ford. “And you will see why this is much-needed in our area.”
Quality of life can also draw further economic development. Authority Treasurer Hugh Miller related an exit interview he witnessed after Gadsden was passed over for an industrial prospect. In the interview, a lack of quality of life was cited as one of the reasons it was passed over.
Now that land has been purchased, the Etowah County Mega Sports Complex Authority is ready to move forward; however, has the authority faced “roadblock after roadblock.”
Senator Phil Williams raised questions about the authority, asking about a non-profit that was set up and operated out of the same bank account. This prompted the Etowah County Commission to freeze payments of tax revenue that were directed to the authority.
At the request of Williams, the authority dissolved a 501 non-profit that was set up, per the advice of authority attorneys, so donations to sponsor a field or structure for naming rights could receive tax deductions. The authority has since discovered the legislation allows the authority to do this without a nonprofit organization.
The authority filed paperwork with the Alabama Secretary of State website, which lists the non-profits as dissolved since October 6 of this year.
Williams also requested that the State Examiners of Public Affairs conduct an audit. Authority members said that they contacted the office, but were told that the office was working to procure federal funding for highway projects and Medicare and would not be able to conduct the audit anytime soon. The authority invited the commission to have its finance director or hire an auditor to review its financial records.
“We’ve done everything the county has asked,” said Ford. “And they are just sitting there holding onto the money.”
Ford fears that the commission will force the authority to resort to legal action.
“The county commission is going to force us to file a lawsuit and spend taxpayer dollars on attorneys fighting this out in a courtroom,” said Ford.
“And that doesn’t help anyone,” said Burke.
“That hurts the children,” said Ford. “It hurts the special needs children. It hurts the advancement of the project. It hurts economic development, and it hurts quality of life.”