City will pay to complete PC soccer complex

Phenix City will provide the major funding to complete a youth soccer complex on the southside of the city, after the private soccer club lost federal funding to complete the project.

The Phenix City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to provide up to $500,000 in city funds to complete the soccer complex in the Phenix Industrial Park, off U.S. 431 south of the city proper.

The River City Youth Soccer Club had originally planned to use a combination of donations and grants to complete first phase of the project. But $149,000 in federal funds awarded to the project by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs were recently rescinded, apparently because of lack of construction progress on the project.

After a lengthy discussion during a Tuesday night work session, the city decided to step in to complete the project. The first phase of the soccer complex is a little less than 16 acres and will include off-street parking, concession stands, walkways, green space and the fields.

"We've been trying to find space for kids to practice soccer and play soccer," said Mayor Jeff Hardin. "There's a camp going on right now up there at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. I just don't know how the grass is going to stand up."

The city was able to help fund the soccer complex because of lack of progress in another significant economic development project. City Finance Director Steve Smith said the funds will come from monies the city had budgeted to purchase "The Triangle."

The Triangle is the six-building section of Riverview Courts Apartments closest to the site of a couple of major development sites on the Chattahoochee River — The Phenixian and Phenix Rising, both multi-million dollar retail and residential complexes. The Triangle, once the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gives its OK to the sale, will be deeded to Troy University Phenix City Campus for the construction of a $6 million building to house its business department and other courses of study.

Smith said the city's plans to purchase The Triangle for $965,960 are unchanged.

"But we have no idea when HUD is going to give its approval, so we need to go ahead and take care of this immediate need," he said. "We will find a different funding source for the purchase when HUD makes its decision."

Soccer is believed to be the largest youth sport in the city, surpassing the successful Little League program and girls softball. Robert Shellhouse, the president of the soccer club, has estimated that 700 youngsters will be participants in the league this year. The growth has been huge, beginning with 230 participants in 2000 but growing to 470 in 2004.

The club has spent about $130,000 clearing the site of the complex on the west side of Downing Drive through the park. The total complex site is 32.4 acres.

Smith, who is a volunteer and coach with the soccer club, said it is fitting for the city to provide facilities for the sport just as it does the others. He also mentioned the economic benefits of being able to host tournaments and regional competitions at a new complex.

Utilities Director Greg Glass, who secured the ADECA grant in 2005, said ADECA's John Strickland mentioned the possibility of the city applying for another grant once the current grant cycle ends on Aug. 1.

But even if a new grant is secured, the funding would not arrive for another year and the club would miss its target date for completing the project — the end of the year. The city received notice of the revocation of the grant funds in a letter from Strickland.

Councilman John Storey said the ADECA administrator gave indication that the agency prefers to deal with the city rather than a third party.