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Proposed sports complex resurfaces
November 17, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

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A proposal to build a sports complex just north of Five Rocks Amphitheater has been discussed off and on for almost 10 years, and it’s recently come up again.

Gering Mayor Ed Mayo said now is a good time to discuss a sport complex due to all the activity surrounding athletic events. Plus, there’s a shortage of facilities in western Nebraska that could host tournaments from around the region.

“This isn’t going to happen without partnerships to help with it,” Mayo said. “We’ve looked at a sports complex in the past and then let the partnerships fall apart. All the decision makers moved on to other things.”

Mayo said a couple of people asked him about the facility during the 2010 mayor’s race and he said he couldn’t support it.

“Not that I don’t support the idea, but the drawings for the field house are too small, even the architect admitted that,” he said. “Several times before, I’ve seen the city start with the right idea and then let the cost back them away from building the facility the way it should have been built.”

Two examples he pointed out were Five Rocks Amphitheater and the Gering Civic Center, both of which he said would have benefited from being larger.

The larger field house Mayo envisioned would house indoor tennis courts, volleyball and basketball courts, soccer fields and softball fields.

“The girls’ softball teams are behind the eight-ball from the beginning of the season when they go over to Greeley and Denver to play in tournaments,” he said. “The teams they meet have already been training in indoor facilities during the winter. The closest thing to a total sports complex in this state is in Lincoln. That facility is used year round.”

He said that because of our geographic location, there’s no reason the Gering-Scottsbluff area can’t host some junior college tournaments, as well as team tournaments in all sports.

Mayo officiates at volleyball tournaments in Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. And comments he’s received from athletic directors in both junior and four-year colleges said they’re willing to bring their teams here for tournaments.

Mayo said that tournament fees, plus money spent by fans staying in the area for two or three days, could be an economic boost to the area. In turn, that could bring businesses like motels and restaurants.

The big question is how to finance a facility of that size. The City of Gering has been setting aside some of its tax funds earmarked for recreation to support the idea. However, that fund only has about $400,000.

“This is where partnerships come in,” Mayo said. “It might be in the form of support from organizations and schools that use the facility. It might also mean selling corporate naming rights. But it’s something we should consider. There’s no reason for us to have to go to Lincoln or Grand Island all the time for every state tournament. In fact, the state high school volleyball tournament started in this area.”

Gering City Council member Jill McFarland said there was lots of interest in a sports complex the first few years, but the project got out of control.

“We had so many people who wanted so many different things, it became a project that wasn’t going to be economically feasible,” she said.

McFarland added the initial idea for the complex was to provide a place that could be used during the winter by college and high school teams, as well as club sports such as GO Baseball and Gering UP basketball.

“We also believed it could be an economic development project,” she said. “We’d probably be the only facility within a 200-mile radius that would be equipped to host sports tournaments.”

Initially, the city only looked at non-profits and political subdivisions for support of a sports complex. But recently, some businesses and corporations have indicated interest in sponsorship opportunities.

“The cost will make it necessary for a sports complex to be completed in stages,” McFarland said. “The field house would go up first so we’d have something indoors for practice. It would also open up other possibilities, like car shows and other events. There’s lots of potential.”

The second phase would involve building regulation size baseball and softball fields, so the facility could host tournaments.
“We’ll need to write some grants and develop some partnerships,” McFarland said. “Ultimately, we’ll need several entities coming together who will agree to pay the ongoing costs of the facility. But I think it could be a great economic development tool.”
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