City talks status of Sports Complex

Public Works Director Tim Williams, far left, leans over a schematic drawing of the property as he details the progress being made at the north Fort Payne property. 

During a work session this week, the Fort Payne City Council discussed plans for the proposed recreational complex and talked about a master plan for developing it over a period of years.

Public Works Director Tim Williams continues to develop a property off Martin Avenue NE and 63rd Street NW, the designs for which include four grass fields and two artificial turf fields to position the City to better compete with other cities to host athletic tournaments. Having two artificial turf fields enables such events to proceed rather than having to be cancelled or delayed if there’s rain on game day.

The City feels it needs to supplement the current aging sports complex located at 101 45th Street NE, which is heavily used.

A number of people attended Tuesday’s meeting, including local representatives from DC Inferno who offered feedback, including their experiences as parents visiting recreational facilities hosting tournaments in other cities. Many of the design features intend to create an orderly experience that will evoke a positive first impression that encourages parents to bring their families back to Fort Payne for vacations.

The Council plans to discuss the complex at Tuesday’s regular meeting at 12:30 p.m. at City Hall. Officials want to act as soon as possible, both to get ahead of expected price increases in building materials and to meet citizen expectations. It’s also impossible to recruit the future tournaments until they can confidently share a completion date when finished fields will be ready for play.

Located between the fields on the design plans is a 3-story concession complex, which the Council reviewed with Joel Leonard of the Cullman firm Leonard Architecture and Interior Design. He explained how the open-air design would encourage optimized flow with six lanes upon entering and discharge out the sides, the interior cooled with ceiling fans and warmed with heat bars for all-season use.

The first two levels would serve foot traffic coming in from two separate levels of fields while a third level provides isolated, covered hospitality space for visiting media and game officials, as well as possibly being used for special events in the community.

Leonard encouraged the Council members to think long-term about additions they may want to add to such a facility because of the cost-savings involved in preemptively extending sewer lines and electrical wiring across the property rather than coming back later and starting from scratch.

Some eventual possibilities for the site include an amphitheater, covered pavilions that teams or families can rent, Frisbee golf, an enclosed dog park, archery area, outdoor basketball courts, walking trails, or a splash pad/playground area for children. Guests said archery tournaments are rarer and could become a lucrative niche for Fort Payne to carve out.

Leonard suggested the City host a Town Hall type of event where citizens can give their input into what the community wants. There seemed to be agreement that an amphitheater would be the easiest feature to add.

The concession complex, which he labeled on the design drawing as “Fields of Fort Payne”, would need to be constructed prior to the fields due to the heavy machinery and building materials that would utterly destroy completed fields. Leonard also warned that the cost of building materials continues to escalate in unpredictable ways due to disruptions in the global supply chain resulting from the pandemic.

“Projecting costs used to be easier, but it is a crap shoot now. We live in a different world at this moment,” Leonard said, adding that it is taking about 18 weeks just to get ordered materials delivered.

The concession building is roughly projected to cost at least $750,000 while the overall facility could cost between $7 and $10 million, according to officials. The lighting alone is expected to cost $1 million. The trade-off is the revenue from potentially hundreds of parents paying $10 apiece at the gate to watch their children play, these families ideally also staying overnight and eating locally. The additional features proposed would offer enhanced recreation for locals.

Some Council members complained of “misinformation” proliferating about the new sports complex and plans hyped during the election to the point where citizens were left with unrealistic expectations of how long it would take to build it. They urged patience and encouraged constructive feedback.

Mayor Brian Baine said the “hard truth” is that the City is likely to re-direct $10 million it originally set aside from a bond issue to provide matching funds for the construction of a railroad overpass, which now appears unlikely to happen. He said it is frustrating because the previous Council had big plans when it borrowed $25 million, but $10 million had to be diverted to urgent sewer projects that no one can see because everything is underground.

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