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Commissioners view Buffalo Valley Golf Course as potential sports complex location

Zach Vance • Apr 19, 2017 at 11:09 PM

Add the Buffalo Valley Golf Course to the list of potential locations where a new sports complex could arise in the coming years.

LDA Engineering’s Jason Foster presented Johnson City commissioners with renderings Monday showing what the current 18-hole golf course could look like if converted into a five-and-a-half field sports complex.

Foster also showed renderings of a five-field layout and a six-field layout during the agenda meeting.

The endeavor was triggered by Michael Balluff, owner of the adjacent indoor soccer stadium along Golf Course Road, who approached the City of Johnson City about a potential private-public partnership in building a sports complex.

But Mayor David Tomita was adamant in clarifying that nothing about the Buffalo Valley project was set in concrete.

“(This) is not anything we’re moving forward on yet,” Tomita said. “Basically, what we’ve done is see what can be done out there. Now that we know there is a plan, we’ll need to see to what extent it’s a private partnership.”

Fully built out with all the furnishings and amenities, Foster’s concept calls for a budget of about $6 million, including $4 million in site preparation.

“This is in line with the estimates from local projects of the same size and complexity constructed as recently as 2015,” Foster’s report stated.

“The final project scope, project phasing and project funding are still being determined. Therefore, this estimate is provided for planning purposes only so that the final scope and budget may be coordinated through future planning efforts.”

While pleased with its potential, Tomita did say the cost was more than he expected.

“I personally was a little shocked with the cost. It was a little higher than what I expected. But, if you asked what I was expecting to see, I’m really not sure,” Tomita said.  “I think we can fine-tune that a lot, but this is not a project I envision the City Commission putting forth $10 million for.”

The full buildout, which could be completed in phases, includes a glass-enclosed clubhouse overlooking the stadium field, 8,000-feet of open air decking overlooking the stadium field, a children’s splash pad, a playground area between the first and third fields and a walking trail around the entire park.

“It would be like no other park in the region and would make the experience of everyone—players and families of players— unique and very enjoyable compared to the large tracts of just field after field found in other areas,” Balluff said.

If agreed on, any one of those amenities could be expunged from the final plan to meet budget needs, Foster told commissioners during Monday’s meeting.

Balluff said he hopes to negotiate with commissioners soon to comprise an agreeable funding strategy before the next budget is approved.

“If it came down to us funding it, we would build it out in stages and build it out as we could,” Balluff said.

“We already have General Shale on board to donate some of the bricks to get it done. We’ve had different contracting and surveying people that are interested in helping out. We’ve got sponsors that are ready to jump in, and we already have the turf for two of the full-sized fields ready to go.”

Foster’s budget report included “a private partner” potentially funding the installation of the field turf and bleachers, but did not list an exact amount.

“How this will actually shape out, what the City will contribute and where all the funding will come from is something we still have to work out in the next couple of months, if the City decides to go forward with it,” Balluff said.

Constructed in 1970, the 124-acre public golf course was bought by the City of Johnson City in 1994. The City also once owned Balluff’s indoor soccer stadium before he began leasing it and later purchased it a few years ago.

While none of the sports complex’s fields would accomodate baseball or softball, Balluff said there is immense potential for small and large soccer tournaments, recreation league games and pick-up games.

“What’s got everybody interested is right now we have the opportunity to create quite an economic impact, take some stress off the current fields which are overused, and create a great environment of new assets for the community,” Balluff said. “It’s just a question of how we structure it and get it done. The opportunity is there.”

Tomita said the project still has a long way to go before anything is settled, meanwhile the City continues to scope out other potential landing spots for a sports complex.

“There are several pieces of property that are being looked at. There is nothing under contract, and we don’t own any of the land so we don’t have any concept plans (like the Buffalo Valley Golf Course),” Tomita said.

Johnson City officials will soon be partnering with colleagues in Jonesborough and Washington County to form a task force that will assess a potential joint-venture in building a sports complex, possibly somewhere close to the new K-8 Boones Creek school.

Tomita said the group will probably meet for the first time in May, and he hopes they will come back in a few months with a recommendation.

Email Zach Vance at zvance@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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