If the city puts in turf fields at the Searcy Sports Complex, two tournament directors have “assured” Mayor Kyle Osborne “that they would be more than happy to book as many tournaments out there as we would like to accommodate.”
“These are not 15- and 20-team tournaments,” Osborne said. “These are 30-, 40-, 50-team tournaments, which brings a lot of people into our community who will shop in our stores and restaurants and fill up motels, which is what we are looking to do.”
The city is asking voters to pass a bond issue Feb. 9 in a special election that would allow advertising and promotions tax revenue to be used to fund $8.45 million in improvements at the sports complex, including four turf baseball fields and four turf softball fields.
Robert Hudgins, who was president of the nonprofit that ran the youth baseball program until the city took over last year, has expressed his opposition to the plans for the ballfields and the bond issue.
“We are trying to draw up a plan of what would be best out there,” Osborne said. “I think he [Hudgins] had the opportunity to look at a plan – that’s all it is, a plan – and he didn’t agree with it, so naturally he is finding everything he can find that’s a reason not to do that.
“As far as moving fields and things like that, we are trying to accommodate the most people out there that we possibly can. In doing that, it is going to entail possibly moving some fields around. We don’t know that for sure. We will wait until the final design comes out. All we’re doing out there is trying to make things better for everyone involved.”
Addressing plans for Legion Field, which Hudgins said is the only one the city was responsible for before last year, Osborne said “that is a beautiful field. That is the one with the large covered bleachers.”
“Right after I took office, I went out there and there’s mold all through the concession stand and press box,” he said. “The weeds were grown up along the sides of fences where the batting cages are located and we tried to clean that up the best we could.
“I found out most years we don’t even have Legion teams using that field. My thought was when we have tournaments, why don’t we play the finals on that nice field? We still have the problems of the mold and the grass. We have cleaned it up the best we can and we have plans to really fix that field up and make it the showcase. There is a good possibility that we’ll have to tear that concession stand down and build another one. It went so long out there with a leaky roof that it’s probably beyond repair.”
Osborne said if voters approve the bond issue next month, “I’m hoping by midsummer, late summer when the plans are finalized that we can go forward and start construction out there.”
“We have been in touch with Kinder Morgan [of Searcy], the pipeline people,” he said. “I think the guy that is opposed to all this is bringing up that there are pipelines out there and we can’t do anything. Well, we are talking about going down 8 inches, not 8 feet. We have met with them and it is not going to be a problem. We have already worked all these details out.”
Starting all over is something that Osborne said the city wants to do at the ballfields.
“We want our kids and our community to have what Batesville, Cabot and even Heber Springs has, and there is no reason whatsoever that Searcy can’t have something just as nice as every one of those communities,” he said. “We are tired of our kids having to go out of town to play ball, when they can play here.
“It boils down that we had been with the Dixie League for years and years and years and I have heard nothing but ‘why can’t we have other leagues besides Dixie.’ Because the city had a use agreement with the group that was out there running baseball. That [Dixie League] was the group that they chose to go with and I think there were two of them in the state of Arkansas and the rest of them were Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, I guess.
“I had lots of parents approach me during my campaign in 2018 and my first year in office after the election wanting to know why we could not have other leagues besides Dixie out there.”
Concerning the city taking over the ball program in 2020, Osborne said “it is one of those things we had to take care of it, we had to do something about the situation out there.”
While Hudgins is saying what the city plans to do is a total waste of money, Osborne said the city is using A&P tax revenue “not just for ballparks but for other programs throughout the city.”
“As far as I know, Searcy Baseball never approached the A&P Commission asking for any funds. They had plenty of money. They were collecting tens of thousands of dollars off of registration fees from the kids signing up to play ball,” he said. “The city even spent $400,000 to redo the lights at the complex. To refer that we are wasting money, I don’t see where he [Hudgins] is getting that. It’s just not true.
“One-hundred percent of the accusations that he’s making are not true. He is just a disgruntled guy who used to run baseball. Now that he no longer runs baseball, he has nothing better to do but harass us.”
Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission Chairman Chris Howell, who is also a council member, acknowledged the “opposition to our efforts at progress,” but said he believes “the majority of people living in Searcy are excited about the future of this small town.”
“I talk to people all over town that see the possibilities and are heartened by the progress that has already been made,” Howell said. “They look at the artwork downtown, our street improvements, the purchase at Riverside Park, and see that we are in fact progressing towards a better tomorrow. And that is what it’s all about. Can progress be tough at times? Absolutely, Is it worth the fight? No doubt about it!”
Howell also said he wanted to set the record straight concerning the cost of the planned improvements at the sports complex because he said he believes Hudgins is confused on his numbers for the project.
“The proposed capital improvements bonds has annual debt service between $603,740 annually ($50,311 per month) to $713,429 annually ($59,452), depending on the final costs of the project,” Howell said. “According to the A&P Commission’s certified public accountant, since inception, the A&P has collected on average $89,538 monthly. These are not my numbers, but third-party professionals that are helping us put this together.”
He said city officials “want the SportsPlex to be a project that the city of Searcy can be proud of. We want to go first class in all that we do out there. Cutting corners is unacceptable. Our kids, our citizens and our local businesses will benefit commensurate to our investment.”
To that end, Howell called the proposed turf fields a “differentiator.”
He said turf fields “do allow more play, period. Tournament directors like the certainty of play-ready fields. The more chance to play, the more attractive the fields.”
Howell refered to the Sportsplex improvements as “an investment in our community.” He said the A&P Commission fully expects to get a return on the investment.
“That is the mission of the A&P Commission and it is a mission that the commission takes very seriously,” he said. “Our job is to see that we invest the A&P revenue in projects that will perpetuate more economic activity in our community.
“That is why the A&P Commission, along with the Searcy City Council, unanimously voted to send this proposal to the voters. The leaders of Searcy view this project as very likely to have the desired impact. Thus the unanimous votes. This is a collective effort. By all of us coming together, we can make this happen.”
Early voting starts Feb. 2. Voters also will be deciding if the city’s eight-year, 1-percent sales and use tax will be continued.