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A youth softball tournament is set to begin today at El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex — the first tournament to be held at the facility since it temporarily closed in March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and reopened July 23.

Complex Board members discussed the matter during a meeting Friday in the Dumas Pavilion. The discussion also included a vote to institute a drop-in fee for the Complex.

Board members soldiered through the outdoor meeting, which allowed for social distancing, as a thunderstorm rumbled through the area, making the conversation difficult to hear at times and leaving attendees damp by the end of the meeting.

Greg Harrison, chairman of the Complex Board, said that when the El Dorado City Council agreed July 23 to reopen the Complex, practices immediately resumed and the Complex manager, the Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado, geared up for a busy — though abbreviated — season with tournaments already booked for the next two weekends.

Harrison noted that 29 teams have signed up for an adult softball tournament that is scheduled for next weekend at the Complex.

“Each team has about 10 people. I don’t know how many of them are local or how many of them are from out of town but it’s been on the books for a while,” Harrison said.

He noted that restarting activities at the Complex will not only drive revenue to the facility but also provide a much-needed shot in the arm for local hotels and restaurants whose income has been adversely affected by COVID-19.

The Complex closed and activities were suspended when the public health crises worsened in early March.

The call to shut down was made by the Arkansas Activities Association, who later extended the dead-period for team sports around the state to June 1.

Many Union County residents called for the reopening of the Complex at that time but members of the El Dorado City Council opted to keep the facility closed, citing health, safety and liability concerns.

Also, with the city in the midst of a spending freeze on non-essential services because of COVID-19, city officials said they were also awaiting an updated financial report to gauge how virus was affecting revenues for the 2020 budget.

Council members expressed concern that the city may not be able support operations at the Complex for the remainder of the year.

The city and Union County contribute to the facility’s annual operating budget, which topped $200,000 in 2019.

Last week, council members received and reviewed a year-to-date city financial report that included revenues and expenditures through the second quarter of the year.

They learned that while revenues were down, the decrease was not as sharp as anticipated.

City officials subsequently agreed to reopen the Complex, prorate the 2020 management contract with the BGCE and assess the situation during 2021 budget considerations at the start of the new year.

Harrison said a youth baseball tournament will also be held on the BGCE’s fields at the club’s North West Avenue headquarters on the same weekend as the adult softball tournament and will, hopefully, bring more visitors to town to bolster the local economy.

To help generate more revenue at the Complex, Board members also agreed Friday to a drop-in fee for the Complex.

Complex Board member Chris Nale suggested the institution of the fee, saying that he had received inquiries from several people who are interested in stopping by the Complex “just to come in and hit” balls.

“We’re looking at ways to make money, the city has been talking about making more money out here and that’s easy revenue right there,” Nale said.

Board members voted on a drop-in fee $10 per visit for adults. Adults may also opt for an annual fee that will prorated to $25 for the remainder of 2020 and go up to $50, starting Jan. 1, 2021.

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