LEWISBURG — After months of speculation, Greenbrier County residents were invited to take a glimpse at some concrete details of a proposed “recreational sports park,” which will be sited on 100 acres of county-owned land near Lewisburg.
Construction on Phase I of the park is expected to begin within the next couple of months, according to county recreation director Roy Grimes. Ball fields should be ready for play in 2019, he said.
In a presentation titled “Building Community Through Sports,” Grimes revealed that the first phase of the park will include baseball and soccer fields, along with parking lots and a gazebo overlooking the Greenbrier River. Because Phase I will, of necessity, involve construction of infrastructure, such as an entry road to the property, extension of water service and grading of parking areas, it bears an estimated price tag of around $2 million, according to County Commissioner Lowell Rose.
Subsequent expansion of amenities offered at the sports park could include a playground, picnic shelter, basketball courts, tennis courts, a horseshoes pit, archery range and disc golf course, Grimes told a crowd of around 80 people who attended his slide show presentation Tuesday evening at Greenbrier Valley Theatre.
Commissioner Mike McClung said it is impossible to put an exact timeline on each phase of the project, because the park will be built only as funds are available. He said, while the baseball park in nearby Covington, Va., was built for just $1 million, the Greenbrier Recreational Sports Park will surely cost “several times” as much.
Grimes said the new park in Greenbrier County is “almost the same” as the Shawnee Park Multi-Sport Complex now on the drawing board in Kanawha County. Media reports say the Shawnee project is expected to cost around $15 million. A foundation has been formed in Kanawha to attempt to raise $10 million of that amount.
Grimes displayed a slide showing Greenbrier’s park construction budget will draw much of its funding from the county’s Arts and Recreation Fund, which comes from a 3 percent occupancy tax collected from overnight guests in lodging establishments.
According to the figures displayed Tuesday, $2.5 million in Arts and Recreation money will be allocated toward the park over a three-year period. Grimes said that amounts to $833,000 for each of the project’s three phases. Also on the construction budget is an anticipated $1 million from foundations, $1 million in grant funding and $1 million in “donations and in-kind services.”
Based upon Covington’s annual operating budget of $400,000 for its baseball fields, Grimes estimated that the annual operating budget for Greenbrier County’s sports park would be $200,000 per year. The reason Greenbrier’s budget will be substantially lower, he explained, is that unpaid crews from the county’s day report center will take care of the maintenance work around the park to fulfill their community service obligation, and volunteers will also pitch in, whereas Covington has eight paid employees manning its ballpark.
Commissioner Rose said he believes some part-time paid employees might also have to be hired to help Grimes staff the park, but said it would not be a year-round facility.
Commission President Woody Hanna said that overall occupancy tax revenue averages around $1.2 million annually, half of which goes to the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is in charge of marketing the county as a tourist destination. That means an average of $600,000 a year flows into the county’s Arts and Recreation Fund.
Every year, the county commission plows close to $400,000 of that money into grants given to local arts, recreation and tourism-related projects. Rose assured the audience at Tuesday’s presentation that the park would not take money away from the county’s long-standing tradition of bestowing grants on those other projects.
Grimes emphasized that the sports park would result in a substantial boost in tourism, as plans call for at least 20 tournaments per year at the facility. That, he said, would mean not only revenue for the park, but also a positive impact on the county’s economy.
In addition, Grimes said the county’s youth will benefit from having a centralized location for sports participation, rather than relying on town parks, which he said have “sub-par facilities.” In support of that statement, he said he has personally visited many of the small community parks and found them lacking in restroom facilities, parking, lighting and concession stands, as well as having metal bleachers in poor repair surrounding their ball fields.
“Every little community has something, but they don’t have it all,” Grimes said.
He said the major issues involved in the county’s decision to build the sports park are safety, capacity and community betterment.
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