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February 23, 2018
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Commission revises El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex plans

By Tia Lyons
This article was published February 7, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.

The master improvement plan has been tweaked for the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex, and the revised draft comes with some new features and a new price tag.

Members of the complex board recently reviewed the plan, which was initially drafted in 2014 by CADM Architecture, Inc.

ETC Engineers and Associates, Inc., updated the plan, and on Feb. 2, Perry Carr, of ETC, presented the revised version, which comes with a budget estimate of more than $6 million “with all of the bells and whistles.”

Carr told complex board members that the plan could be further tweaked to their preferences and the price tag lowered.

The 2014 draft called for a two-phased project that totaled nearly $1.7 million.

At the root of the master plan are improvements and expansions that call for more parking space and additional fields and related facilities, including concession stands and restrooms.

The revised draft presented by Carr also covered improvements in the pavilion areas, more restrooms, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act in some areas, water features for children and upgrades to the RV sites.

Complex board members have said the goal of the improvement project is to help make the complex the premiere athletic facility of South Arkansas and North Louisiana.

The project would help boost chances of booking large tournaments in El Dorado, generate more revenue, and help grow and improve athletic opportunities for youth in the area.

Carr’s presentation included photographs of work ETC has done for recreational facilities in Cabot and Batesville.

“You can take a look at what we could have. We can shoot over the moon, and you can get with the (El Dorado City Council and the Union County Quorum Court) to see how much money you would have to spend,” Carr said.

The city and county contribute to the annual budget of the complex.

“The cost estimates can be changed a thousand times, depending on what you want,” Carr said.

He said the overall budget estimate could be shaved down to $4.5 million.

For instance, a new 600-space parking area leading to new fields southeast of the Dumas Pavilion could be cut to 300 spaces.

Two new, 300-foot fields would cost about $400,000 each to build, Carr said.

Board member and El Dorado Alderman Dianne Hammond pointed to the El Dorado Works tax, the city’s one-cent sales tax for economic development.

The 10-year tax, which was approved by voters in 2015, is expected to generate $50 million, and 5 percent was set aside for parks and playgrounds, including sports, recreational and outdoor venues or projects.

“We already have a tax in place,” Hammond said.

She and other board members said the group needed to leverage the existing tax to help raise additional funding to implement the master plan.

“We need to put together a plan and do this thing once and for all,” Mayor Frank Hash said. “We’ve got to get it all lined out and show how this thing is an income producer and a regional asset.”

Hash admitted that raising the money may prove to be a challenge, noting that Union County has to be on board with the plan.

“We’ve got multiple investments going on now, and we’ve got to figure out how to squeeze this in. We’ve got to get the city and county involved,” he said. “We’ve got to look at this thing very hard.”

Greg Harrison, board chairman and Union County Quorum Court member, said Carr will be invited to the Feb. 15 quorum court meeting and to bring along officials in Batesville to discuss how the athletic facility there has helped to boost the city’s economy.

“They spent $28 million in a town of 10,000,” Carr said, adding that Batesville officials have had to turn down tournaments.

Hash likened the city to El Dorado, saying, “It’s the only sizable town in a lot of area up there.”

Complex board member Will Crowder, who is also a member of the Quorum Court, inquired about available grants.

Carr said ETC has not yet fully delved into researching possible grants. He said the board has already taken advantage of some grants from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

Work that was done last year to install lights and electricity on the two south fields was done, in part, with a matching grant from the state.

The match and additional funds came from the El Dorado Works tax.

Carr said some grants are available through Major League Baseball, but they are competitive.

“They’re a little different and hard to get,” he said.

Board member Avo Vartenian asked how long it would take to implement the improvement project, and Carr said the process would take about a year, including the completion of the design and selecting a contractor.

Steve Harrell, of the Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado, who has a contract for services with the city to manage the complex, asked how long the facility would have to be closed for the remodel.

“Not long,” Carr said, adding that work could be done simultaneously on several components.

Harrison asked Carr if he could tighten the revised plan “into something more than a rough draft.”

“We can. We’ve got to have direction on what to do, what you want and don’t want,” Carr said.

Board members agreed to review the plan and return with their recommendations for further revisions.

The board will convene at noon Friday for a special meeting. The group will further discuss the plan and review overages in the 2017 budget.

In 2016, county officials dissolved a longstanding pro rata agreement with the city, saying that while they would still equally share normal, annual operating expenses with the city, they would no longer pitch in for any cost overruns.

Hash said the two groups needed to sit down and discuss a budget overrun of about $15,000 for 2017.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@eldoradonews.com.

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