Paducah and McCracken County leaders Tuesday night discussed a range of details for the proposed outdoor sports complex for Bluegrass Downs and Stuart Nelson Park — projected at a $42 million cost, and the steps forward.
The Paducah City Commission and McCracken County Fiscal Court met at City Hall for more than two hours. This took place after city officials expressed support for the sports complex project, but raised questions during its April 27 meeting. The Tuesday gathering also materialized after fiscal court’s April 26 meeting discussion of potentially scaling down its scope, and the city’s financial partnership on the project.
“Our children play soccer on a landfill and it’s just embarrassing,” McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer said during the meeting.
“Our baseball, softball fields are in critical need of rehab. The best possible site for a sports complex has been donated to the county … and it is in a location right between two existing city parks, right on the Greenway (trail), right on a highway, right at a traffic light and right in the city, so it’s accessible to the inner city kids just like it is the children and the adults that are spread throughout our county, and even across our region.”
Clymer said it’s “no exaggeration” to say the project, upon completion, will “transform” the county and city into a vibrant and growing sports area. He said he thinks it would be the greatest economic development enterprise the city or county has ever undertaken in its history, noting that it would provide economic growth, generate income and a facility for people to enjoy.
“At the conclusion of this presentation, I’m going to ask the city of Paducah to join with McCracken County as full partners on this project, on whatever we jointly design, whatever we jointly agree upon,” he said.
Clymer continued his remarks, adding this may be something similar to the current draft, and it may not be.
“The city is part of the county and the county is a part of the city. We’ve made tremendous strides — this body with the previous administration and with this one,” he said. “Together, if we join in this, the ask will be up to $20 million from the city to join with our — up to $20 million and then we can accomplish what I think our mutual goal is — to make this community a better place and, in this instance, a far better place than it was when we assumed office.”
City officials have not made a commitment on what level of financial support it will give to the project, which could feature multiple rectangular (soccer) fields, baseball fields, softball fields and various amenities to use, such as a renovated Bluegrass Downs grandstand, restrooms, concession stands, a playground and more.
However, it’s listed as one of the commission’s top 12 priorities that were adopted in March. It’s also listed as a potential use for part of the city’s approximately $19.7 million in bond proceeds, which were originally intended for the recreation/aquatic center project at Noble Park.
“It was a good exchange of information,” Mayor George Bray told The Sun after the meeting. “We started to get into some of the details that might help our commission get more comfortable with some sort of commitment of funds. The devil’s in the details.”
As for what’s next, Bray said he thinks the city commissioners need to reflect on it, and probably discuss it among themselves one on one, and take time.
“We’ve already talked about how we’re going to use the bond funds a lot, so we have an idea, kind of, where we’re headed, but we need to take a little bit more time and we’ll make a decision,” he added.
The meeting had several speakers: project architect Jeff Canter from Peck Flannery Gream Warren (PFGW Architects), McCracken County Sports Tourism Commission Chairman Jim Dudley and McCracken County Deputy Judge-Executive Steve Doolittle. The sports complex project currently has a location and a 90-page master plan, which was unveiled in February.
In a lengthy presentation, Canter went over the project and design principles, the project process, project assumptions and inventory for existing sports facilities in the city and county, operational strategies, hotel room potential for the project’s full buildout, the opinion of cost and many other details.
He shared a projected figure of about $41.8 million, which is for the full buildout at Bluegrass Downs and Stuart Nelson Park, and full amenities. It’s a different number than what’s in the master plan.
“I found an error last week going through the spreadsheet. We were accounting for seven soccer fields at one time and we backed it off to six because we were getting into some wetland areas and we never changed the number in the opinion of cost, and so we’ve knocked a million dollars off the cost over night,” Canter said. “And, I know that helps but it’s not enough.”
The presentation also included low range and high range figures for the opinion of cost. The figures were about $35.5 million for the low range (or 85%) and $43.9 million for the high range (if you add 5%).
Canter shared numbers for hotel room potential, when considering the project’s full buildout, which was more than 132,000 for total tournament visitation in a year, and more than 20,000 hotel room nights. The numbers are calculated at a 45% occupancy rate, and for one-night stays.
“You see the total tournament visitation at 132,000 people that would come into our community and use this complex for its intended purpose and this doesn’t include the locals that would use it week in and week out,” he said.
Meanwhile, in other figures, Dudley discussed economic impact, among his remarks about the project. He said the total estimated direct visitor spending is $8.8 million to $10 million a year for single-day tournaments.
The meeting discussion by elected officials included various questions about the use of the sports commission’s 3% transient room tax funds, in regard to the project, and whether costs related to the proposed changes at Stuart Nelson Park, such as moving the dog park and potential entrance road improvements, were included in the approximately $42 million cost projection.
The mayor expressed his thoughts that the sports commission’s transient room tax funds, or hotel tax funds, should be part of the project, such as to help support debt service.
Clymer said it was looked at as a possible way to cover capital expenses in the sports complex’s future, like when expensive fields wear out. In his opinion, Clymer said he was thinking of using roughly half toward debt service and half to keep in reserve for capital improvements.
After the meeting, Clymer told The Sun he thinks both commissions see “very clearly” it’s a project they need to do. It’s just “how do we do it.”
The entire meeting can be viewed online through the city’s YouTube channel, @paducahkygov. The project’s master plan is available online, while the presentation slides from Tuesday can be viewed on the city’s website.