City moves forward with new complex

Joel Leonard of the Cullman firm Leonard Architecture and Interior Design shared a drawing of the proposed concession building at the new recreation complex off 63rd Street North in Fort Payne. The building will need to be constructed before the surrounding turf is finished for the six new athletic fields intended to attract tournaments.   

The Fort Payne City Council took action on a big investment this week while discussing the need to show more financial restraint.

The City authorized the purchase of lighting to illuminate four grass and two artificial turf soccer fields to be constructed inside the new recreational complex off Martin Avenue NE and 63rd Street NW. They also approved soliciting bids from contractors on the installation. Public Works Director Tim Williams said the vendor, Sourcewell, plans to raise prices in 2022 so they will save $30,000-$40,000 if they order materials before that happens. The lights, flag poles and controls cost $1.13 million, and Williams estimated the installation could cost about $200,000. He said state law does not allow labor to be included in co-op pricing.

Council members also authorized Joel Leonard of the Cullman firm Leonard Architecture and Interior Design to put together architectural plans for the 3-story concession building proposed for construction between the new fields. He said he will show the plans to a few contractors to get price estimates since costs are a moving target right now.

Council member Phillip Smith said, “This next set of plans will have a list that, if it comes back bid at more than we want to spend, we’ll be able to cross features off to get it to what we do want to spend.”

Mayor Brian Baine said they told Leonard they wanted to keep costs contained below $600,000 for the structure, but a $1 million figure came up in the previous week’s work session. Council President Pro Tem Lynn Brewer said the recreation committee budgeted $750,000 for the building, which goes beyond the simple cinder block buildings that some citizens might imagine when hearing the words “concession stand.”

Some Council members expressed a desire to create a long-term plan for the new recreational facility while others suggested such a formal “master plan” is premature. Smith said it would be a “living document” subject to change rather than set in stone.

“We haven’t thought all things out,” Brewer said. “We’ve got the big pieces but we don’t have all of the other things. We talked about the economic impact of something like archery tournaments. We’ve got to have a plan and ideas in phases. We need to make it the best facility we can, a destination where someone wants to come hang out for the weekend because there’s so much to do there. Not an amusement park, but trails, biking, being able to play a round of disc golf if they’re not playing softball or soccer. Providing something else for families to do while visiting. We need to know what our options are. I feel like we are doing all the right things trying to pull together as much as we can. Something the community will use a lot because one thing we lack in Fort Payne is things for our young people to do. That’s nearly 300 acres of activities we could build for our community. We have to finish the work we’ve already started.”

Brewer motioned to create the master plan for the complex, which Council President Walter Watson and Council member Johnny Eberhart voted against. Smith and Council member John Smith voted for it.

Baine said he wants to hold a Town Hall event to show the drawings to the public and seek input on what’s wanted in the community in the next phase of a multi-decade development.

“We don’t need to put ourselves in such a financial bind that we can’t finish that project,” Baine said. “We’re seeing restaurants closed and when they aren’t getting people in to spend money, they aren’t paying taxes. We do have to be frugal with what we do have and tighten our belt.”

Watson agreed, adding, “We’ve got to be really careful on the amount of money we’re spending because we don’t know what’s coming down the pike. We may see a downturn like we did in 2008. We need a contingency. Once that money [borrowed by the previous Council in a bond issue] is gone, it’s gone. We need to slow down on spending and make sure we follow through on what we’ve promised our employees.”

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