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Draft of sports complex plan presented

WORTHINGTON -- In a meeting with representatives from various organizations around Worthington Wednesday night, the draft of a master plan for athletic facilities was presented.

Members from District 518, the city of Worthington, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce and the public were in attendance as Brad Scheib and Kevin Clarke from Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. presented the findings. The group had completed a needs assessment, which included a public meeting last fall.

The Wednesday meeting, in the Worthington Fire Hall, was a joint conversation with the idea of moving forward.

"One of the things we want to get out of this discussion is a first step," Scheib said. "Our opinion is, the first step you do is assemble a sports commission. You need to define, as a community, 'What is the structure of that entity?"'

From there, the decision would be to enhance existing fields or to move forward with a sizeable complex. The commission could look into things like maintenance, funding and ownership, according to Scheib.

"We really want to decide if we want to enhance or have a complex," Worthington City Council member Ron Wood said. "I don't think we can have both. You either have your neighborhood and stay with your local and make it better, or you're going to have a complex. That's just too much burden for this community with maintenance."

As outlined in the study, most of the fields in Worthington need some sort of work.

"If your primary emphasis is going to go on this complex, that's where you're going to try to sell yourself to the outside world and to your community," Wood said. "A local neighborhood operation, which we are now, or would it be a sports complex? That's a big decision to make. If you do a complex, we won't be able to keep all the stuff we have."

The proposed site for a sports complex was by the middle school, where tennis courts, a baseball field and softball fields are already in place. It's also in close proximity to the Minnesota West fields.

"What I like about the complex is you have so much already in place," Wood said. "We have the Twins grant, where we did the field at Minnesota West; it has irrigation already. That moves around to two softball diamonds. I'm not saying they don't need to be enhanced, but you have that. Then you have the baseball diamond that sits at the middle school, and you've got eight tennis courts we just put in."

Scheib added that the Worthington Area YMCA lends appeal to the location.

"It's important to note you've got the YMCA and the college, you have things to do," he said. "I think that's an important thing, as well, having just been to Kansas City to a weekend tournament. If you're going to host a big tournament, you need to have things to do in the downtime."

School board member Steve Schnieder expressed concern about the parks.

"That doesn't necessarily mean people can't go out there and use the grass," Schnieder said. "You're still going to have your neighborhoods where if kids want to go out there and kick the soccer ball around, they can still do it. My main point is you're not getting rid of parks. There is still green area for kids to go play on, which is what local parks are for."

An area that wasn't specifically addressed was hockey.

"I would urge adding an ice arena to the conversation," said Jason Johnson, vice president of the Worthington Hockey Association. "Being back in the community, personally, I have really come to find there is room for improvement there, not only in the actual physical building, but also with the relationships and synergies that can be created or enhanced with different organizations."

Johnson talked about using the arena for other activities besides hockey and figure skating.

"When there's not ice in the building, there's opportunity to involve baseball while there is rain, or with soccer," Johnson said. "We got a really big boost from the city of Worthington this last year with the money they graciously gave us to, in my opinion, bring it up to the basic or safety level. There are still some items that could bring us up to the safety level -- specifically, the bleachers.

"I would encourage everyone not to leave the ice arena out because it's not just specifically hockey or figure skating," Johnson continued. "It's a big asset to our community."

One of the biggest questions was funding. A new complex could cost $6 million or more. Talk about using a sales tax was presented. However, in the plan, a lodging tax, food and beverage tax, bonds and grants were suggested.

With the ongoing costs, tournaments were suggested as a way to offset those expenses.

"Tournaments bring money into a community, but we can't all believe that tournaments will make revenue and bring in cash flow," Scheib said. "It might, and that's great. But this is more about quality of life. It's about economic development beyond making money -- it's about why would someone want to come and start a business in Worthington."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.