Thursday, October 15, 2009
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Is Lincoln ready for some 'futbol'?

City hears proposal for a new soccer complex

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[October 15, 2009]  Dru Hauter appeared before the Lincoln City Council on Tuesday evening, representing the Lincoln Futbol Club. He brought with him a proposal for a new soccer complex for the city of Lincoln.

Armed with a 17-page document, Hauter went through the proposal outlining what the club would like to build and where, and what the financial benefit to the city could be.

In 2006 Wal-Mart Inc. entered into an agreement with the city for the building of a new Supercenter on the west side of town. The agreement included giving 27 acres of land located immediately south of the new store to the city.

Since that time, the property has been leased on a cash rent basis for agricultural production. This year the lease is held by Corey Farmer at a cost of $227.90 per acre for 25 acres.

The lease will expire in February 2010, and Farmer has indicated that he will not be willing to pay that same price for the coming year. He has said that the ground has a marshy area that produces very little yield, and he feels that at best the lease value should be $200 per acre.

At the Sept. 29 committee-of-the-whole meeting, this topic was addressed, and Mayor Keith Snyder said then that there was a "local organization" interested in developing the property.

The Lincoln Futbol Club is that organization.

Hauter opened by saying that he was nominated to address the council because he is a fan of the sport and that both of his kids have been heavily involved in soccer. He noted that his 16-year-old son, Ben, has been playing since he was 4 and has a passion for the sport.

For the past eight years Ben has been a member of a traveling soccer club called Central Illinois Select that started in Springfield and is now in Bloomington.

His father has served four years on the board of that traveling club and has learned a great deal from the experience. He said that the club started hosting tournaments and successfully built a soccer complex, complete with lighting, from scratch.

The Lincoln Futbol Club was formed early this spring and ended this year's season with 70 players. Hauter says that the club is growing, and they anticipate adding more players before the next season begins.


They currently have three coaches and are receiving technical assistance and training from the high school soccer coach.

The group has also been working toward landing sponsorships for their teams, and to date approximately 30 to 35 local businesses are supporting them in that manner.

"Lincoln Futbol Club's mission is to foster success in soccer and develop an athlete's career with responsibility, self-discipline and respect for others," Hauter said. "Our goal is to build a player base and promote soccer as a sport and achieve the competitive success that will bring a name to Lincoln for their soccer team."

Hauter said that the club wants to take the same route as Central Illinois Select and build a complex in the city that would be capable of hosting large tournaments.

Currently there are fields available in the city, but each one has its own set of problems.

The former Lincoln Developmental Center campus has two fields, but Hauter said they are not regulation size, which is necessary for tournaments. He also noted that the future of the LDC campus is uncertain, so the club can't know that they will be able to continue using those fields.

Lincoln High School has fields, but they are also used for football and high school soccer, so scheduling becomes an issue. In addition there are problems with insurance when using the high school property.

Hauter said that Lincoln College has space and has been gracious enough to allow the club to use it for practices. However, the club has to schedule around college soccer games, insurance is a problem, and the club cannot use the fields when school is not in session.

Hauter is asking the city to allow the club to develop 12 acres of the 27 behind Walmart into a complete soccer complex.

The plan proposed is for five full-sized soccer fields and two smaller fields. The full-sized fields would be used for games with kids 12 years of age and up. Those same fields would also be used, half at a time, for youth in the 4- to 7-year-old age bracket. The smaller fields would be for kids in the age group between 8 and 12 years old.

The club wishes to take full responsibility for the fields. They will do the necessary ground leveling, field construction and maintenance, and hope to eventually add night lighting to the complex as well.

Hauter said that they would raise money to build and maintain the complex through fundraisers and are currently working to get a 501(c)(3) designation as a not-for-profit organization.

In addition to the playing fields, the club will put up a snack shack and first-aid station and provide portable toilets. The east edge of the 12 acres will be gravel and will provide access from Malerich Drive as well as parking.

Hauter also said that the club would provide liability insurance on the property.

In discussing benefits to the city, he said that soccer is the fastest growing high school and college sport in the United States. It promotes a healthy lifestyle through sports, will increase the ratio of park area to population that potential new residents look at, will improve nearby property values and produce a positive economic impact on the city through visitors to local tournaments.

He said that the economic impact to local businesses is quite important, as the average local youth player will spend $480 annually on equipment, travel expenses and food. He cited statistics from the Georgia Soccer Association showing that in the youth programs approximately $158 per year is spent just on food eaten out in restaurants.

Statistically speaking the cost per year goes up to $3,845 per player when kids reach high school-level competition and includes nights spent in motels and approximately $755 per year in local restaurants.

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The greatest economic impact for local business would be in having tournaments. Hauter said that the club would host two tournaments per year and that the revenues local businesses could earn would be in the area of approximately $800,000 total.

Hauter said that the club would also work with the YMCA, Lincoln High School and any other organization that was interested in using the complex.

If the land is turned over to the club, they want to start development immediately after the field is harvested. Hauter said that the seeding of the fields would need to mature, so he feels that the earliest the club would be able to use the complex would be late spring to early summer next year. He said that they would like to host one tournament next year in the fall, then two tournaments per year beginning in 2011.

Alderwoman Kathy Horn asked if the group was eligible for any grants. Hauter said that there are grants available. He noted a complex built in Springfield that was funded by a grant through the U.S. Soccer Federation. However, he doesn't think the club can make the Oct. 31 grant deadline for any funding this year.

Of the 27 acres, the current plan calls for only 12 to be used for the soccer fields. Hauter said that the club was willing to take responsibility for all the acreage and that they have talked about adding a shelter and picnic area, perhaps a Frisbee golf course, or even just a finished walking path where folks could take a nice walk amid an area of native grasses.

The mayor asked what the club was thinking regarding a lease on the property and the term of the lease. Hauter responded that they would want a lease term of at least five years.

Alderman Nathan Turner asked if the club would charge other area organizations for use of the complex. Hauter said that it would be dependent on the use and the organization, but that it is all up for negotiation.

He added that the club has talked to the YMCA about their program. When Ben Hauter started playing soccer at the YMCA there were over 800 players in the program. This has decreased significantly over the years. Hauter said that the facilities at the YMCA are not ideal and that Lincoln FC wants to work with that organization and hopefully build up their soccer teams as well.

City attorney Bill Bates said that the land was given to the city by Wal-Mart with restrictions on the use of the property. He added that he doesn't believe there were any restrictions that would prohibit using it for a sporting venue. He will look into that.

Alderman David Wilmert said the question that needs to be answered is whether or not Farmer would want to go ahead and lease the remaining acres, or if the club should take over the full 27 acres.

He also wondered what the going rate for leasing the ground to a soccer club might be.


Turner said that he really wasn't as concerned about the city receiving money for the property as he was for having some kind of stipulations on the ground being developed. He indicated that he would not want to see the property sitting idle because the club couldn't raise funds, yet the city had given them a five-year lease.

Alderwoman Melody Anderson said she thought the complex was a wonderful idea. She also was not concerned so much about the lost income from the cash renting as she was about doing the right thing toward notifying Farmer that the city would not renew the lease.

Bates said that in this particular case, it is the first year of a written lease, so technically there is no requirement for a written notice to terminate. However he feels that it is proper to issue a written notice, and in Illinois written notice must be delivered at least four months before the end of the term.

Anderson commented that she wanted to try to maintain a deadline of the end of October on the decision to renew the lease with Farmer.

She also noted that sometimes things end up getting dragged out in council and she didn't want to do that to the club either, as they need to be able to move forward regardless of the council's decision.

Bates asked what the legal status of the club was at the moment. He wondered if it was a partnership, LLC or corporation. He asked Hauter to define who the lease would be with, and it seemed that at the moment, the lease would be with the individual members of the board of the club.

Bates said that would make each board member financially liable for the complex and perhaps that would not be advisable. Hauter said the board would look at that and see what they needed to do.

It was concluded that the council's building and grounds committee will have a special meeting to discuss this on Oct. 19 at 6:15 p.m. They have also set a voting deadline of Nov. 2 for approving or denying the club's proposal.


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