Photo: Pictured is an artist’s rendering of the soccer portion of the proposed Etowah County Mega Sports Complex to be located in Rainbow City and Gadsden.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
It appears that local youth soccer teams will have the honor of officially christening the Eto-wah County Mega Sports Complex in Rainbow City and Gadsden sometime this spring.
At a meeting of local businesses on July 24 at the Gadsden-Etowah Chamber of Commerce, members of the Etowah County Mega Sports Complex Authority announced that next in line after the construction of an access road and land-clearing will be 12 soccer fields.
The authority, which currently owns approximately 140 acres, plans to break ground on the soccer fields next month and expects the fields to be ready for competition by April. The property is located off Steele Station and Lumley roads.
State Representative and authority member Craig Ford pointed out that soccer will have the biggest economic impact for the complex in the short term.
“Soccer’s your money maker,” said Ford, who explained that 12 fields would be required to host soccer tournaments. “We have a lot of local teams having to travel and giving tax mo-ney to other areas and bringing no tax money to Etowah County. We need this [complex] for economic development and a steady revenue stream.
“We have [the complex] geographically located where it would bring in the most economic dollars, and us owning the land with no debt is very important.”
Ford noted that the current local facilities for competitive youth soccer are substandard and that out-of-town teams are avoiding having to play in Gadsden and the surrounding areas.
“There are teams in Birmingham that play so-ccer against Gadsden teams that went to their association [for] a validation excuse and don’t have to come to Gadsden to play because our fields are not safe and adequate,” said Ford. “That’s embarrassing. We don’t even get the sales tax from a home-and-home series because our soccer teams have to play away and away.”
Ford cited Weeks Field, located at the west end of the Gadsden Sports Complex off Meighan Boulevard, as a prime example of inadequate facilities.
“It used to be an old trash dump, and it’s a dangerous place to play,” he said.
Eddie Edwards, a local businessman and 1988 Gadsden High graduate who played club soccer for the Tigers, currently has three children involved in local club travel soccer. He said the area’s inadequate fields and facilities not only prevents the Etowah County area from hosting tournaments but leaves a negative impression on the visiting players, coaches and parents.
“It’s very frustrating when our facilities don’t meet basic standards of most of the other locations we travel to,” he said. “Even the [soccer facilities] we go to that aren’t state-of-the-art at least are in decent condition.”
Edwards estimated that he and his wife Jill have spent approximately $61,000 in registration fees, lodging, gas, meals and other expenses at out-of-town tournaments over the past 16 combined years for spring and fall seasons for their three children.
“You’re talking about at least $1,000 a kid per season, and additionally for a three-day tournament, you’re looking at between $500 and $700. With everything combined, it works out to around $3,000 per kid every year. A tremendous amount of that money could have been saved if we had a first-class soccer facility in our area.”
Edwards pointed out that unlike the Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville metro re-gions, which have several outlying communities that offer fuel, food and lodging, the greater Gadsden area and can count on visiting teams spending their money in within the city limits.
“Unless they want to drive 35 minutes to Trussville, they’re going to be stuck here and eat here and buy gas here and stay at a hotel. That really adds up when you consider how many people will be in town for a decent-sized soccer tournament.”
Edwards also noted Gadsden’s geographical location should draw travel teams from the soccer-rich regions of Birmingham, Atlanta, Ga., and Chattanooga, Tenn.
“We’re right in the middle of that, and us hosting tournaments would be convenient for everybody in those areas. It makes sense from every angle to build and maintain a first-class soccer complex right in our backyard.”
According to the project’s master plan, the soccer portion of the complex will include 12 international standard soccer fields with a signature field, 1,200 seats, a press box, locker rooms for athletes and umpires, restrooms and concessions, scoreboards with LED display, natural sports turf for all fields, lighting, digital irrigation, internal drainage and a clubhouse with concessions, restrooms and meeting rooms.
Northeast Orthopedics Physical Therapy Administrator Chris Russell said that a 12-field soccer tournament format with could easily accommodate 100-plus teams with both male and female players and multiple age brackets.
“You’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of families,” he said. “You’ve got your entry fees, which range from five hundred to one thousand dollars. Almost everyone stays to eat lunch, so the concessions at these big tournaments are huge.”
Russell pointed out that many tournaments are played over a three-day weekend, fueling the off-site revenue.
“You’ve got people staying Friday and Saturday nights who are staying at your hotels, eating at your restaurants and using your gas stations,” he said. “Just from the sheer volume of people who are there, it’s a huge economic boom for the community.”