Although the city released preliminary plans to put in eight turf youth baseball and softball fields for $8.45 million, Searcy officials are asking voters to approve of the city issuing $14,195,000 in capital improvement bonds because they want to make sure they have enough money to turn the Searcy Sports Complex into “a first-class facility,” according to Mayor Kyle Osborne.
Osborne said whether or not all the money would be needed depends on “exactly what all is done out there” at the sports complex on Queensway Street.
“You can turf the fields and stop there or you can turf the fields and change the dugouts, you can add the fencing, you can build a concession stand, you can do other improvements out there, lighting,” he said, “depends on how much they do at the soccer field; somewhere between $9 million and $14 million, depending on what all they can get accomplished out there.”
Osborne said one of the things he and Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission Chairman Chris Howell have talked about was some of the money even going toward improvements at Riverside Park, particularly bike trails. “We talk about that a lot.”
The bond issue, which would be repaid with advertising and promotions tax revenue, is one of two measures being put before Searcy voters on the Feb. 9 special election ballot. The other is making the city’s eight-year, 1-percent sales and use tax permanent.
Osborne said the $14.195 million in bonds was the maximum the city felt it could take out based on its A&P revenue. He said the city takes in close to $90,000 a month in A&P revenue while “we’re looking at a maximum that would be obligated of around $60,000 [monthly] and it’s my understanding that would take us up to the $14 million.”
Howell said, “We are not using as much of the A&P revenue as has been portrayed. There is plenty of wiggle room.”
Fixing up the sports complex has been the mayor’s vision since he took office in 2019. He sad one of the biggest complaints he received when he was running for mayor was about “our sports complex. Please do something about or sports complex.”
“So I campaigned hard with the City Council for an A&P tax so we could redo our sports complex,” Osborne said. “Well, it just so happens Chris Howell got elected [to City Council] and I found out after the election that he is all about doing that. I turned this all over to Chris.
“I want to spend enough money out there that it’s a first-class facility. I don’t want to spend $8 million to turf eight fields and redo the bleachers and the dugouts and then not do the rest of it. You are still walking through mud to get to fields, you still have rusty fences the kids are hanging on. If we are going to do it, let’s do it all. That starts adding a little bit to it.”
Osborne said he biggest complaint the city receives when softball tournaments take place is that the females have to stand in line so long to use the restroom. He said the line goes all the way around the concession stand because there is not enough restrooms out there and patrons have to be shuttled up to the other restroom at the park.
“All of that has to be taken care of,” he said. “That’s with an 18- to 20-team tournament. Can you imagine that with a 50-team tournament out there and there’s 2,500 people? We have to triple the restrooms and we have to have a more efficient concession stand.”
Osborne said the fields were built 25 years ago and has “the same fences that were put out there then. There are no additional walkways. We are lacking in restrooms.”
Referring to the costs for the project, Osborne likened it to a road project where things keep changing and “change orders” are required to allow for the extra costs.
Howell said, “We don’t have a backstop. We don’t have somebody that’s going to to go ‘Hey, if you’re overrun, here’s some extra money.’ We have to make dang sure we got what we need. We are going to have what we need. That is important for the people to know so they don’t go out there and see a half-finished project. I think the way we have done it has been well thought out and we are covering our bases as we are making sure it is done correctly.”
As far as the ballfields being the first priority, Howell said the city has got to start somewhere.
“That first brick is going to be the baseball fields, the softball fields,” he said. “Now is there going to be opportunity to once we complete that project pivot to the soccer fields? Yes, there is going to be some improvements out there on the soccer fields, but right now we are focused on the baseball because one you start diverting attention away on one project to another, all of a sudden this project, you start stealing from it, you start moving resources away from it, and all of a sudden it is not what it could have been.”
The Searcy Sports Complex project also isn’t going to keep the A&P Commission from being able to fund other projects, Osborne said.
“There still is extra money coming every month and there will be other projects coming up,” he said.
If this project is successful, Howell said A&P revenue will increase as well as other revenue sources.
“The A&P tax is money invested that returns more money to the city; this is why the A&P Commission has realized that we have to do an impact project that is going to do that,” Howell said. “This project, we feel, has the most chance for success so that is why we are moving forward with it, sending it to the voters.”
“... This is the way forward for Searcy; that is how I feel and how the A&P Commission feels and that’s how the council feels. It was a unanimous vote [to put it before voters]. We need everyone that want to see Searcy move forward, we need them to show up on Feb. 9th and let’s get this ball going.”
Howell said the new ballpark draws tournaments or not, “there is a certain investment that needs to happen, period, for our own kids.”
Osborne said the cities “around us have grown up and are leading us. In order for us to catch up with them and pass them and for our kids to have something they can be proud of, instead of them having to go to another community, as Chris said, this is an investment in our community that will be long lasting.”
“When it’s said and done, I can’t imagine all the people that are going to be lined up talking about how proud they are and how excited they are that their kids get to see this,” he said. “I talked to a guy today who has three boys and he said, ‘I wish it was already here. The sad part is my oldest son will probably not get to play on that because he will be in college by then.’ He is excited.”