A consultant for the parks and rec dept. used the most sophisticated techniques modern science offers, but something went tragically wrong!  Despite a sophisticated 100-point matrix for selecting a park site on the city’s west side, the top choice landed with a thud when presented to council members Thursday night.

The recommended candidate, among 19 entrants for the city’s park-challenged western half, is a 522-acre site south of State Route 96 and about a mile west of Veterans Parkway.

LaLance: Bigger May Not be better

Hey freeloaders! If you think annexation is a dirty word, you should supprot a county-wide regional park district. not have been a journalist.
The shrapnel is getting a little  thick in here.

Councilman Rick Lalance said the easiest choice is always the biggest and grandest one that serves the most people, but it might not be the best choice or even one the city can afford.

Smotherman: Why not more, smaller parks?

Councilman Eddie Smotherman was even harder on the winning choice. He asked why the city should  build a huge regional park outside the city limits, especially since some 40% of the city’s park users live outside the city. These people pay no property taxes to support the city’s parks and rec progams.

Better not to send so many cars constantly to one location

Smotherman suggested that the city might be better off with three or four smaller parks, each serving one sport rather than one huge megapark used by players in several sports.

“The concern I have,” he said, “is the vision that I think some people have of a park out there that is going to be some 600 acres on a substandard highway. … If I lived out there, that would be an absolute nightmare for me — to have a facility go in that’s going to attract that many people to one place. It makes so much more sense to me to have two or three or even four 100-acre plots. We could have soccer fields at one place and baseball fields at another so we would not constantly be sending everybody to one location…. Siegel Park  is an excellent example of a park designed primarily for one purpose. We need to diversify these hings so we don’t impact one area.”

“We’ll get back to you.”

City Manager Rob Lyons, having that necessary quality of nimbleness, retreated gracefully. He promised to come back with some park options for he councilmen to weigh within 30 days.

Preaching to the choir

Much of the evening was spent stressing the need for new softball, baseball and soccer fields, as leagues are having to cap their player rolls, and some tournaments, which bring money to Murfreesboro, are turned away because there are no fields available. This mass of detail probably was overkill.  Everyone agreed new fields are desperately needed. It was the best route to the goal where the differences surfaced.

Fields in play 24/7

Lanny Goodwin, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the city now operates 20 baseball/softball fields, which puts it 28 fields below the national standard of one field per 2,500 residents. Given the expected doubling of the city’s population, the Boro will be 71 fields short of the national standard by 2035 if it doesn’t build another field.

“When I started,” he said, “we played four days a week. Two days were for rainouts. It was easier to maintain the fields then because there wasn’t as much demand. Now we’re going seven days a week, from 8 in the morning (Saturdays) until 8 p.m. — or until 10 p.m. if it rains.”

A matrix suitable for framing

David Coode, a planner at Kimley-Horn, the city’s consultant, outlined the thorough way the city decided which sites would be best for a west-side park. By 2013, he said, the city already had a general idea where the park should be and it called for landowners within that area to offer parcels for sale. It received 19 replies. Then a committee of six, including two city employees and two people from the Kimley-Horn, set about rating the candidates.

They drew up a huge matrix of qualifications. Coode didn’t say how many criteria items were on the list, but a perfect score equaled 100. One issue was suitability. A parcel that looks good on paper, for example, might be nothing but rock when you look at it in person. A parcel could be large in area but too narrow for ball fields. Another might be perfect physically, but it would be expensive getting utilities out there. Or it might be inaccessible.

The Final Four or January Madness

"I just want to thank the little people behind the scenes who made these awards possible."
“I just want to thank the little people behind the scenes who made these awards possible.”

Here are the winning parcels. To make this dramatic the way they do on TV, we will start with No 4 and work up to the Big Kahuna:

No 4: This 237-acre site is next to the interchange of State Route 840 and I-24. It looks like the same area that the city’s 2035 planning report has set aside for a corporate park. If so, a ball field would not likely be the highest and best use. Coode said a park would have to be assembled here by combining parcels under different ownership. It’s mostly flat, but there have been some sinkholes in the area. Coode contended that a park here would meet the city’s current needs, but is probably too small to handle future demand.

It is possible that a sports park here would be a waste of prime commercial/office land.

No.3: This 111-acre parcel is on the north side of State Route 96 just west of where Veterans Parkway crosses 96. Co0ode said this is a landlocked property. “You could immediately fill that location up with nothing but recreational facilities and be done with it,” Coode added. “There is no potential for future expansion.

No. 2: This 336-acre property lies about 4,000 feet south of the apex of a triangle where Veterans Parkway and State Route 99 (Salem Pike) cross. It is just outside the target area for the park. An asset is a nearby fire station.

"Aside from acquisition costs, traffic and impact on the neighborhood, No. 1 looks like the best investment. But what do I know?"
“Aside from acquisition costs, traffic and impact on the neighborhood, No. 1 looks like the best investment. But what do I know?”

No. 1: This 522-acre site is the one that drew all the council fire. “It’s a great location in the center of the area that the consultant’s team felt was most appropriate for the regional park. It is very suitable for athletic fields, but it has some terrain in it that allows us to take advantage of other opportunities, Coode said. The 522 acres allow both active participation sports and passive activities, such as July 4th picnics.

Who said anything about future expansion?

While Coode spoke often about room for future expansion, Goodwin corrected this assumption. The demand for active sports fields is so great, he said, the city fills sites with fields and related facilities practically as soon as it acquires new land.

Some random thoughts before the next chapter in this cliffhanger

  • The biggest issue for teams that take their sport seriously is that it is almost impossible to find a field to practice on during the season.
  • Kids and adults who just want to play ball are competing with tournament organizers who want to schedule events here. Goodwin sad these events raise a lot of money for Murfreesboro  but added that the city has to turn away several requests because it doesn’t have the capacity.
  • The recreation department partners with 12 organizations of which 10 rely on city baseball/softball of multi-purpose fields.

No new fields built in years

  • There are 20 city softball/bseball fields and 17 soccer fields. The city hasn’t built a baseball field in 15 years and a soccer field in 10.
  • About 40% of the people who use city parks live outside the city and pay no property taxes to acquire park land or maintain it. The moral is clear. If you fear annexation (and the present protection could be undone by city lobbying of the legislature) you had better quit freeloading. Regional parks should be a county responsibility, and you should support paying taxes for a countywide park program.

Clusters of 18 fields ideal

  • It requires about two acres to do a soccer field the right way.
  • An ideal baseball/softball complex for regular play and tournaments would be six clusters of three fields each, all sharing parking.
  • The city hosted 68 tournaments last year, with more than a dozen of that total soccer. The rest were baseball and softball. City officials expect to turn down about 30-40 requests from tournaments this year because they lack the capacity to accommodate them.  The city expects to get slightly over $100,000 in field rental fees this year. The Chamber of Commerce estimates field use by outsiders generates $33 million a year in sales for the city’s business community.

Clustering reduces maintenance costs

  • Shelter rentals brought in $53,000 to the city. From 2010 to 2015 there was a 23% jump in special use permits issued by the parks and rec dept. Again, this revenue stream could have been higher, but capacity issues forced the city to turn down many requests.
  • Megaparks make field maintenance easier than when the same number of fields exist at seveal locations around the city.
  • The city has about 60 adult teams playing at three locations, but with added capacity it could double that figure.
  • The city’s capital improvement budget has $10 million set aside for land acquisition.

Making sure everyone pays for the ride

  • Some of the city complaining about freeloaders is easily remedied. If you live out of the city library area, the library could charge you an out-of-city fee for a card. I paid $100 a year (for a while) for a library in a neighboring New Jersey town that was far superior to my own. In the same way, the city could charge a higher fee for out of city residents who play ball on city fields.

Tomorrow: The hazards of being a freeloader and the dreaded “A”: word.