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Lebanon Sports Complex Committee member Rick Smith highlights an alternative to designs during a recent meeting of the group. The group will look at alternative plans for the complex, which came with an initial $36 million cost estimate.

The Lebanon Sports Complex Committee began to look for alternative ways to build a multi-sport complex in the southern part of the city after it received a cost estimate of $36 million from the design firm.

Nashville engineering and architecture service firm Barge Design Solutions gave the committee the initial estimate to build the park to be located along Highway 231 just south of Stumpy Lane. The preliminary sketches for the complex include soccer, baseball and softball fields, as well as playground areas.

The city purchased the land for the complex earlier this year for $2.5 million.

“We’re just gathering information. We need to continue to do that and work toward the middle,” Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said. 

Lebanon Recreation Director William Porter said a commitment to funding, whatever the project ultimately costs, is essential.

“It’s about a vision of what you want to be,” Porter said. “We’ve got to come up with a number and then be willing to say, ‘This is how we’re going to fund it. We’re going to push for it.’ ”

City officials have discussed the need for an outdoor sports complex, particularly for soccer, for several years. Wilson United Soccer participation has significantly increased in recent years, outgrowing its space at the Lebanon Municipal Airport.

“I think everybody was kind of surprised when we got that $36 million estimate to build the park,” committee member Rick Smith said.  

Smith questioned the group about how it desired to see the park built, specifically if it favored a phased-in approach, with soccer taking priority, followed by baseball, softball and other amenities.

“We got to build soccer. We know that,” he said. 

The group asked Barge Design Solutions to find the estimated cost of a phase one portion of the complex that includes five soccer fields, parking, utilities and lighting, walking trails, playgrounds and pavilions. The group will discuss the estimates in early December. 

“I hate to consider a phased-in approach, but I think that’s going to be a reality,” board member Jeni Lind Brinkman said. “We have an immediate need. We have to address it.”

The committee weighed the importance of building a facility as soon as possible for soccer purposes, while recognizing the shortcomings a soccer-only complex would bring to the city. 

Barge Design Solutions Vice-President Steve Fritts said Murfreesboro is the region-leader in soccer tournaments, meaning the most profitable sports for Lebanon would likely be baseball and softball for tournaments. 

James Herren with Wilson United Soccer said the league would not be able to sustain the cost of the facility, which Fritts said is common. 

“No matter what we put on for field usage is not going to cover the city’s cost on that annually. We can contribute, but we won’t cover it,” Herren said. 

Fritts said ballfields in the country average about 20 percent in cost recovery, but noted Lebanon could see about 38 percent return on the project based on potential investments. 

“You’re not going to feel the economic impact of it until you build it — all of it,” Lebanon Recreation Director William Porter said. “The soccer is not going to bring hotels in here. The whole thing might bring some hotels in here, some restaurants and other stuff, because those people aren’t spending their money until they see you build yours.”

Lebanon Public Works Director Jeff Baines endorsed the phased-in building approach. 

“In 1980 or so, Lebanon looked at an interchange on Hartmann Drive,” Baines said. “Hartmann Drive was built in eight phases. Get a plan. Get you a vision and work toward it. That road didn’t get built in one project. It took eight projects, but now we all drive it.”

Brinkman, who previously worked in Murfreesboro, said the conversations surrounding the sports complex in Lebanon is not abnormal. 

“I was there when we built Siegel and this is exactly how the conversations go,” she said. “This conversation is tracking along just like it does in other communities.”

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