City in talks to revitalize 135 youth sports fields

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Players, coaches, parents, future-parents: anyone with a stake in Kilgore softball and soccer has a seat waiting for them Nov. 14.

The City of Kilgore – working with Kilgore Soccer Association and Kilgore Youth Softball Association – will host a meeting next week on the future of the Hwy. 135 sports complex. Set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Kilgore City Hall, the joint effort is focused on whether the privately-owned facility could be renewed and redeveloped with the city as owner.

“That facility was constructed entirely with donations and volunteer efforts 20-plus years ago,” Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck said, crediting the grassroots effort for establishing a home for the two sports programs. Decades on, however, “There are large parts of it that are reaching the end of their useful life.

We are interacting with the two associations that run those facilities to determine whether or not they have an interest in the city taking on the role of owner.”

Right now, he added, the municipality’s hands are tied when it comes to helping revitalize the property.

“The one complication has been, to this point, that it’s owned by the organizations, so the city hasn’t been able to bring in financial assistance,” Selleck said.

If a handover is amenable to the majority of the programs’ stakeholders, it could pave the way for the investment of public funds in the property.

“What would that project look like and would that project be worth turning over to the city so the city can take ownership and fund the project?”

Notably, Selleck said, that doesn’t mean the City of Kilgore is getting into the soccer and softball business.

Rather, he’s eyeing an agreement like the city’s deal with the Kilgore Youth Baseball Association on the Whataburger Sports Complex.

“We are the owner, we were the developer, but then we handed-off operations and nearly-full autonomy to the recreation association,” Selleck added. “This would not be like what you see in other cities. We wouldn’t be controlling the facilities from a programming standpoint.”

Hence, the need to bring the softball and soccer stakeholders on board.

“We have them fully-integrated into this project so we’re making sure we’re all on the same page as we move forward with it … Their input and their buy-in is critical because they’ll be the ones controlling and operating the facilities long-term.”

The particulars of the project are still on the drawing board. Feedback from the meeting Nov. 14 will help inform plans for the redevelopment, if it’s a go.

According to Selleck, “It just depends on what comes out of this conversation. This phase is the kind of the fact-finding phase to look at what a facility might look like if the project were funded.”

It’s likely the project will come in under the $2 million-plus spent on the six-field South Commerce Street baseball complex.

To start with, Selleck said, the dirt work at the Hwy. 135 facility is in good shape.

The budget for the project comes later: “We don’t know at this point what all needs to be replaced, what is desired, what is required,” he said, “but somewhat less than what the baseball facility cost.

“When I got here three-and-a-half years ago, the softball and soccer complex was the best non-school sports facility that we had. The soccer association, currently, is probably the most robust association we have at this point. In terms of impact, it’s every bit as big – or bigger – as baseball from the number of children reached, from the number of tourists brought in.”

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