GAINESVILLE – The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has voted to fund an expansion to City of Alachua Hal Brady Recreation Complex. The move came Tuesday afternoon despite a vote last week from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council (TDC) against the measure.
The City of Alachua has been eyeing a 105-acre tract of land lying adjacent to its recreation complex along County Road 2054 for more than a year. City officials have reportedly negotiated a $1.2 million purchase price on the land, which is already zoned for a 215-home development with a taxable value of $1.9 million.
Dubbed ‘Project Legacy,” the additional land would more than quintuple the 25-acre recreation complex area the city currently owns. For several years, the owner and developer of the property has allowed the city to use the land as a parking area during its annual Fourth of July celebration.
Of the $1.2 million needed to purchase the land, some $700,000 has already been raised, Adam Boukari, Assistant to the City Manager said Tuesday. The funding gap of $500,000 has kept the City from closing on the deal which must be completed by Dec. 31 according to a contract with the owner.
The City of Alachua has committed to building three multi-purpose arenas with seating and lighting that could be used for lacrosse, a growing sport, among other activities. Those arenas would come at an estimated cost of $300,000, City officials say. But before the City can construct those facilities, it needs the half-million dollars to buy the land.
In a 6-2 vote last week, the TDC recommended against funding Alachua’s request for the $500,000, which would be taken from the bed tax, fees collected on hotel, motel, campground and similar rentals.
In turning down Alachua’s request, several members of the TDC cited concerns that Alachua’s project did not have enough details and circumvented the process for divvying up the funds raised from a two-cent hike in the bed tax last year. A portion of that tax has been designated for Nations Baseball Park, under construction in Newberry, while another portion was to be set aside for a new fairgrounds.
In the meeting Tuesday, County Commissioner Rodney Long said he was opposed to funding Alachua’s request by essentially raiding the funds set aside for the fairgrounds.
“I’m not going to take one dollar out of the fairgrounds project until this board makes a determination of what it’s going to do with the fairgrounds and how it relates to the commitment you’ve made to the people in Plan East Gainesville,” Long said.
In challenging claims about the commitment to the fairgrounds project, Commissioner Lee Pinkoson commented that the board, including Long, already transferred $1.2 million from the fairgrounds project to county jail construction projects.
Commissioner Mike Byerly remained opposed to Alachua’s request for the funding citing similar concerns as TDC members that it fell outside of a prescribed process. Byerly said he was in favor of re-opening the process and reviewing all of the proposed uses of the bed taxes, but not Alachua’s alone.
Pinkoson noted, however, that Alachua’s project did not meet the criteria to be considered in the review process undertaken last year.
Standing squarely behind the project, Commissioner Susan Baird detailed numerous reasons she believed the expansion was important and worthy of funding. Baird pointed to Alachua’s track record with recreation, bringing numerous major tournaments over the years.
She also said that Alachua has a strategy to improve the quality of life by attracting major companies, which are some of the county’s largest taxpayers, including Dollar General, Walmart and Sysco distribution centers. The $500,000 would be an investment in something tangible, said Baird. “We’d provide a quality of life…for those groups that have decided to invest in our area.”
Although concerned about how the City would fund construction of the three multi-purpose fields, Commissioner Paula DeLaney also supported the funding. DeLaney described it as a “transformational” project that would have long lasting impacts on the area.
In hopes of allaying concerns expressed by DeLaney and others, Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper told county commissioners the City was committed to the project.
“We have been committed to the recreation and the kids in this county for 30 plus years and we’re not going to let them down or let anyone else down who makes a decision for us to move forward with this commitment,” Coerper said.
Pinkoson noted that using the 105 acres as recreation was a more desirable alternative to homes. “If it’s allowed to be developed, you lose that opportunity forever,” he said.
Details of the agreement haven’t been hammered out, but commissioners gave the green light to start drafting the deal. In a 4-1 vote, the commission agreed to support the project. Byerly cast the dissenting vote. Commissioners referred the matter back to the TDC for a determination of how the request is to be funded. At issue is whether or not it should be funded through the TDC’s reserve funds, the fairgrounds funds or a mixture of both.
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