Due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, activity at the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex has been suspended since March and city officials have decided that the facility will remain closed as efforts continue to stem the spread of the virus.
El Dorado City Council members agreed Tuesday to keep the complex closed, saying they do not feel it is safe or financially prudent to pull the trigger on reopening the facility at this time.
The agreement was followed by a 6 - 1 vote to move forward with advertising for bids for the construction of new youth soccer fields and a concessions plaza, all on the south end of the complex.
The topic was broached during a city Finance Committee meeting.
Robert Edmonds, director of public works, asked the council for direction on reopening the recreational facility, which has eight fields that are used for baseball and softball, two playgrounds, two pavilions that are available to rent for events and eight RV sites that are also available for rent.
The El Dorado High School softball and baseball fields are adjacent to the complex.
“We closed (the complex) at the onset of the coronavirus at the recommendation of (the Arkansas Activities Association),” Edmonds said. “Is that what you want to continue to do? I know some people are antsy to get it back open. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
The AAA canceled the spring sports season and extended the dead period until May 30 in Arkansas because of the public health crisis.
Moreover, the city has placed a moratorium on spending on non-essential services due to economic instability that has been created by COVID-19.
The moratorium extends to the complex and a contract for services for the manager of the facility, the Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado.
The BGCE also serves as the concessionaire of the complex, per a second contract that calls for an 80/20 revenue split — 80 percent to the complex and 20 to the BGCE — with the complex when the Club hosts tournaments on behalf of the facility.
Council Member Dianne Hammond noted that without a 2020 manager’s contract in place, no one would be on hand to oversee activities at the complex should it reopen.
For years, the city and Union County had shared annual operating expenses pro rata at the complex.
Council Member Vance Williamson, also chairman of the Finance Committee, said the Union County Quorum Court agreed to contribute $100,000 toward the complex budget, with any cost overruns requiring a vote from the court.
The terms were included in a proposal that was presented by the Quorum Court and approved by city officials in January for the county to transfer administrative responsibilities for the complex to the city.
The council’s acceptance of the proposal dissolved a nearly 20-year-old interlocal agreement between the city and county regarding the complex.
On Tuesday, Williamson said the facility could potentially go deep into debt if it were to reopen too soon, explaining the complex would incur expenses with “very little” potential to generate revenue that would keep pace with expenses.
Presenting such a situation to the Quorum Court “would be unbecoming,” Williamson said.
“Even if it was open, teams are not practicing. Teams haven’t even been formed yet,” said Council Member Paul Choate. “People in this community are expecting us to take care of business for them.”
Edmonds pointed out that a similar situation exists for the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium and the Murphy Arts District — to whom the city has contributed millions of dollars from the El Dorado Works and the now-defunct El Dorado Forward sales taxes, both of which are geared toward economic development projects — due to event cancellations because of COVID-19.
The El Dorado Works tax, which went into effect in October of 2015, nearly four months after the eight-year El Dorado Forward tax expired, is also used for municipal infrastructure and quality-of-life projects.
Referring to the complex, Williamson said, “It’s a seasonal thing and we’ve missed the boat on that.”
Council Member Billy Blann asked when the complex’s board of directors expects to reopen the facility.
During a meeting May 8, complex board members said they did not know when the AAA would OK the reopening of such facilities around the state.
Edmonds said Tuesday that the AAA may make an announcement early next month.
Council Member Andre Rucks, who said he referees area youth baseball games, said there have been discussions about the matter among referees and coaches.
“No one is confident about reopening. Even if the (AAA) does approve it, I don’t think we should,” Rucks said.
Edmonds told council members that one component has been completed in the first phase of a master improvement and expansion plan for the complex.
Phase one of the two-phase project includes new baseball and softball fields, new youth soccer fields, a new concessions plaza and improvements to the existing fields and concession stand.
The project is being covered by a $2.6 million funding package from the city’s El Dorado Works tax.
The soccer fields and the concessions plaza have not yet been completed.
Blann said he would like for the city to move forward with putting the projects out for bid because the money has already been allocated for the projects.
“I think we need to show the community that we’re moving forward, that we have not come to a complete stop,” Blann said.
“We need to be comfortable knowing that we’re going to award the bid to somebody because because it’s going to affect the prices if we have to rebid it,” Edmonds said, adding that bid advertising and other associated costs will come to about $2,500.
Hammond inquired about a construction timeline and Edmonds said that the soccer fields should take 90 - 100 days and the concession stand approximately 90 days to build, weather permitting.
Edmonds noted that the complex board and city are still in negotiations to acquire land on the south end of the complex that could be used for a college baseball stadium, a proposed component in phase two of the master plan.
The second phase also calls for major parking lot improvements.
Williamson voted no on a motion bid the soccer fields and concessions plaza. Council Member Mike Rice was unable to attend the meeting Tuesday.