Multipurpose fields could be added to Nelson Park east of the Abilene Zoo after the Abilene City Council on Thursday voted to entered into an agreement with Abilene Youth Sports Authority.
The AYSA built and operates an indoor sports facility – Dodge Jones Youth Sports Center – south of where the outdoor fields will be located. The proposed 10 outdoor flat fields will be for soccer, football and other related sports.
In other action, the council approved the city entering an agreement with the Abilene Improvement Corporation for the demolition of the former office building of the Abilene Reporter-News at 101 Cypress St.
The local news and sports staff is now located in the First Financial West Building in downtown Abilene.
The council did not discuss future plans for the lot after it is razed at a cost of about $500,000, City Manager Robert Hanna said.
Fields could attract sports tourism
Under a memorandum of agreement between the city and AYSA, the city will provide $5 million in cash or in-kind services for the fields and development of related infrastructure, such as parking and water and sewer lines.
AYSA will have 12 months to raise $10 million for the project. If the fields come to fruition, the nonprofit will manage them under a lease with the city for $1 a year for 40 years.
The Parks and Recreation Board voted unanimously to recommend the council enter the agreement, parks and recreation director Lesli Andrews told the council.
“They have been hearing over and over and over again how important these fields are for the citizens of Abilene and how much they are needed for all types of sports,” Andrews said.
Hanna said federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act are eligible to be earmarked for the project.
“If the private sector is successful in raising the money that they seem to be, then there will be no local tax dollars in this project at all, which is pretty impressive,” Hanna said.
The exact funding mechanism can be determined in the future.
Robert Lopez, vice president of the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the council during public comment that the fields would bring outside dollars to the city, based on his experience previously in McAllen.
More:Abilene Chamber names Robert Lopez new head of Convention & Visitors bureau
When that South Texas city built nine similar fields in 2012, the city experienced “a boom in sports tourism in McAllen,” he said.
“It’s no secret that sports tourism – youth sports – is the fastest growing tourism segment in the nation but also here in Abilene, in large part because of the efforts of the AYSA and its first-class facility,” Lopez said.
The new fields also will save local families from traveling as much to the Fort Worth/Dallas area for weekend tournaments and attract more children to sports, Lopez said.
And, when as many as 3,000 people come to Abilene for a tournament, the Abilene Zoo will benefit from increased visits, he said.
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Following are some of the other actions taken by the council.
► Windmill Circle Apartments: The council voted 7-0 to advance to a second reading July 14 a proposal to add conditions to zoning that would allow the building of apartments at 5601 Memorial Drive in south Abilene.
Council members acknowledged receiving numerous emails and other communications from nearby residents in opposition to the development. Moving the proposal to a second reading would allow for additional discussions, Councilman Weldon Hurt said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission previously voted 5-2 to approve the zoning changes.
A handful of people spoke against the proposed apartments because of increased traffic and crime and loss of property values. Lisa Dews said 54 households opposed the apartments, which represented 93% of the nearby residents.
► Cedar Creek Trail Development Project: The council voted unanimously not to approve a $2.36 million contract with Bontke Brothers Construction for a 1.5-mile trail along the creek starting at East South 11th Street.
The bid had been tabled at a previous meeting because of the higher cost compared to other bids.
► School speed zone: The council approved without discussion a proposed 25 mph school zone for the Wylie East Elementary School area.
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.