City considers outdoor multi-sport complex
Photo: Orange Mayor Larry Spears, Jr., talks Tuesday night to citizens interested in a new outdoor sports complex for the city. RECORD Photo: Dave Rogers
For The Record
A roomful of Orange citizens turned out Tuesday night to make it clear they want a multi-sport outdoor recreation center in their hometown.
“My daughter plays select softball and we go someplace about every weekend for tournaments,” said Tiffany Bell of Orange.
“We go to Houston, we go to Beaumont, we go to Vidor and we go to Nederland, and Nederland has only two fields.
“Why can’t we play here?”
The public meeting at the Orange Public Library was called by Mayor Larry Spears to fill unmet needs left over after city council decided last summer that a baseball-softball-soccer complex was too expensive to fund with $8 million in certificates of obligation that also needed to fund millions of dollars of road repair.
At the time, city leaders figured it would cost at least $12 million to put a complex on the 100-plus acres the city owns in Riverside, behind the old Naval barracks at the Port of Orange.
Much of that expense would be to stabilize the land there, since it was built on sand dredged from the port as a short-term solution to housing thousands of shipyard workers during World War II.
That Riverside property was the site being talked about Tuesday. Spears even mentioned how neat it would be to tell your friends “you hit a home run into the Sabine River.”
The comparable projects referenced by Spears were as near as Sulphur or Beaumont and as far as California.
Some type of artificial turf would be installed and one parent even suggested an Orange complex could steal business from the acres and acres of soccer fields in Beaumont, because those were built in a detention pond that was flooded during rainy weather.
Spears suggested that private business and industry could help the city pay for the initial construction and that the complex could thereafter be self-sufficient by charging for field rentals and concessions.
He said one key was developing adequate funding by grouping sports groups. He made the example of “bringing soccer from the Cove and Little League from Memorial together.”
Several parents mentioned that youth flag football teams from West Orange and Little Cypress recently played each other in their league’s Super Bowl, the game was played in Port Arthur.
Maintaining a reasonable price point is important, too, Spears said.
“We want to give our kids something to do besides playing Fortnite,” the mayor said. “We’ll need to get a buy-in from local business and also generate income for kids who can’t afford to play. It’s not their fault.
“Money can be made from the project, but most importantly, this is about children. We can bring in select ball. But this is for our children. They will not be kicked to the curb.”
Spears was looking to form a citizen’s committee to hold “four or five” more meetings to fine-tune ideas.
“As a community, our diversity is a strength,” Spears said. “For too long, we haven’t engaged everyone. Now we have a consensus. There’s no rush, but we’ve got to have some structure.”