The El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex board of directors is seeking the help of a Little Rock-based firm to tweak a master improvement plan for the complex.
Board members and Perry Carr, vice president of ETC Engineers and Architects, agreed Friday that the complex on Champagnolle Road could be transformed into a destination to compete with other facilities in the region and to grow the local economy by attracting more and larger tournaments and visitors.
Carr, who has attended recent complex board meetings, explained that ETC is a full service engineering and architectural firm with a primary focus on recreation facilities.
A large portion of ETC’s business comes from designing aquatic facilities, such as pools and water parks, and another large chunk comes from athletic facilities, Carr said.
“We make our money doing design. We try to put our money where our mouth is and work with you on planning and establishing financing,” Carr told the group.
ETC developed initial plans for the construction of the two newest fields at the complex.
Construction of the fields has been ongoing in phases — starting with a $175,000 matching grant that was awarded by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism in 2007 — as funding has become available.
“That was pieced together. That’s the only thing we’ve worked on here. We don’t have a lot of projects in this area to show you,” Carr said.
The most recent addition to the fields, which are southwest of the Dumas Pavilion, are new lights — a project that was covered by another state grant and matching funds from the El Dorado Works economic development tax.
In 2014, local firm CADM Architecture, Inc., developed a master plan for the improvement and expansion of the complex.
The plan called for the completion of the two fields on the south end of the complex, the addition of three more fields in the area, and improved and expanded parking.
The master plan was broken into two phases, and at the time, the total cost for both phases was $1.6 million.
With a $60,000 donation from Clean Harbors, new playground equipment has been installed on the south end of the complex.
Mayor Frank Hash said a dedication ceremony for the new equipment is forthcoming.
Greg Harrison, chairman of the complex board and a member of the Union County Quorum Court, contended that improving the complex is a quality-of-life issue, noting that families consider the availability of state-of-the-art recreation facilities when relocating.
Board members have previously said that such facilities draw tournaments with youth teams whose families accompany them and spend money locally.
“If you’re a town that doesn’t have one of these facilities, you’re a town that people are not going to,” Carr said.
Moreover, Harrison said nice recreation facilities help to provide opportunities for more athletic programs for youth, which in turn, helps to increase participation and improve the talent pool.
Carr noted that ETC worked on a project to build new ballparks in Batesville four years ago.
“Batesville’s program doubled. In just the first few months, the statistics were unbelievable, with the money they were bringing into the city. Now, they’ve got two hotels that are looking into building there,” Carr said.
ETC has also drafted plans for a proposed aquatic center and recreation complex in Magnolia.
Car explained that Magnolia city officials have estimated that an existing bond issue could generate $15 million to build the new complex.
The bond was used for the Magnolia Regional Medical Center, and city officials have proposed refinancing the bond at a lower interest rate and lowering the sales tax by a quarter-cent.
The proposal has not been approved by voters, but Carr and Harrison noted that if the proposal OKd, teams will flock to Magnolia for tournaments.
“If Magnolia builds that facility, it’s going to swamp everybody in this area,” complex board member Phillips Lansdell said.
Hash said South Arkansas is similar to Batesville, whose population is just over 10,000.
“There are a lot of small towns around here that are big on sports,” the mayor said.
Harrison said a similar ballpark project is under way in Sterlington, Louisiana, adding that El Dorado also competes with north Louisiana in hosting tournaments.
Carr said that modern recreation facilities include amenities other than ballfields.
“It’s about a playground for the kids who aren’t playing ball. It’s a gathering place for families while their kids are waiting to play ball,” Carr said. “It’s about having tables, shade structures and the right distance from the fields to the restrooms. It’s about making it a great destination.”
Hash said the city and Union County, who share the cost of annual operating expenses at the complex, have faced financial crunches that have prompted tight budgets for the past two or three years.
“And from what I understand from the county, they’re going to continue to help with operating costs and do in-kind (work), but outside of that, there isn’t going to be any more investment,” Hash said.
Last year, the quorum court voted to end a long-running agreement with the city to share pro rate expenses at the complex.
The county’s contribution was capped at the base operating budget, with county officials saying they would not longer support a 50-50 share of any budget overruns.
Board member Stacy Scroggins said the county agreed to perform in-kind for parking lot improvements/repairs, and Hash said he would speak with Union County Judge Mike Loftin about the matter.
Carr said ETC could also review the existing master plan and tweak it, as well as send ETC engineers and architects to tour the complex for a couple of days.
Board member Will Crowder, who is also a member of the quorum court, noted that the quorum court finance committee will convene next week to begin 2018 budget talks.
“Personally, I’m thinking about the future of our children. We need a state-of-the-art facility. I think this is one of the best economic growths for any city or any county,” Crowder said.
City officials said they plan to attend the quorum court finance committee meeting next week to participate in the discussion about the complex budget and shared expenses to operate the Union County Jail.
In other business, Hash said he will attend hearings to review fiscal year 2018 grant applications to the state parks and tourism department.
The city has applied for another grant to advance the implementation of the master plan.
The hearings will be held on Oct. 26 in Jacksonville.
Harrison said he also plans to attend the hearings.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.