The Fieldhouse Sportscenter will soon be part of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, following Springfield City Council’s approval Aug. 23 of its purchase from private owners.
Although the purchase was originally proposed to be completed with American Rescue Plan Act funds, a motion by Councilperson Andrew Lear at the Aug. 9 meeting amended the proposal to purchase the building from $2 million in general fund carryover and a $5.2 million bond.
Council approved two separate measures. One authorized the city manager to enter into a purchase agreement with Fieldhouse owners Dr. Craig and Kristen Naugle, and the other approved the issuance of the special obligation improvement bonds. The 46,230-square-foot Fieldhouse Sportscenter opened in spring 2013 and cost $5 million to construct, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
Councilperson Angela Romine, who was the sole “no” vote on each of the measures, said some residents had contacted her with concerns about the expenditure.
“They feel like there are other things we could possibly do that would benefit the community a little bit better,” she said, citing dangerous properties and underfunded animal control as two examples.
Director of Parks Bob Belote explained that the ownership group reached out to the city about the possibility of buying the Fieldhouse Sportscenter, which contains four athletic courts, to the parks system. The building had not been on the market, he said.
Belote said the building offers tournament opportunities, and other activities also could be held there.
“We think we can get some economies of scale with things we’re already doing there,” he said.
Because of the amendment to change the funding mechanism from ARPA to city and bond funds, a public hearing was held on the second measure.
Christopher Donegan has officiated volleyball and softball and was a one-time employee of the Fieldhouse. Donegan objected to the purchase, saying that Springfield has one of the greatest park systems in Missouri and even the United States – but the Fieldhouse purchase does not add to the inventory. Rather, Donegan said, it merely transfers management and upkeep responsibilities to residents. Donegan noted that keeping the property in the private sector would allow it to generate real estate property taxes that can fund the parks and other city needs.
He also questioned whether any city projects would have to be canceled or delayed because of the use of $2 million in carryover funds.
Another resident, Missouri Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, spoke in favor of the purchase and offered his opinion that it would have been a perfect use of ARPA funds.
“As a member of the Missouri Tourism Commission, I’ll throw a couple of quick stats out,” he said. “Even in an off year, even in fiscal year 2020 … a little over $12.5 billion was spent in this state on tourism.”
About 300,000 Missourians are employed in tourism, he said. Additionally, roughly 1.3 million people visited Missouri specifically for the purpose of a youth sporting event in fiscal 2020.
Councilperson Lear clarified that he also believed the purchase to be an appropriate use of ARPA funds, but his amendment was because of an objection to the process used to allocate those funds. The opportunity to purchase the facility came too early in the process of determining the use of ARPA funds, according to Lear. A council committee has been tasked with assessing requests for the funds.
Mayor Ken McClure said he was in favor of the purchase, though he voted against the amendment to pay for it with non-ARPA funds at the Aug. 9 meeting.
“As was indicated, I did vote against the amendment that was offered two weeks ago, and I did so for three reasons,” McClure said.
First, McClure felt that ARPA funds should be used. Second, he said council does not know exactly what kind of obligation the city may have for its carryover funds.
“Thirdly, I fear that we may be setting a precedent that we may regret as we look at other possible uses of all of our funds,” McClure said. “That being said, I intend to support the bill as amended and think that the purchase and being able to fund it now is a good process.”
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