GONZALES — Leaders of the Gonzales Soccer Club showed up in force and in uniform at a Parish Council Finance Committee meeting Monday night to share their plans for a new soccer field under intermittent construction at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.
A vision of outgoing parish President Tommy Martinez, the soccer complex has towering lights in place over a broad expanse of generally smoothed-out dirt, but sits unfinished while parish officials wait on the job to be rebid, council members have said.
The club, two-thirds of whose members live outside of Gonzales, including many who reside in Prairieville, has dreams of drawing regional tournaments to the facility situated among the soccer hotbeds in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Mandeville and Lafayette.
“We just need the final budget money to get us to the fields being installed with the irrigation systems, the proper turf, obviously, the concession stand and bathroom facility as well as the input driveway and the parking lot,” said Matt Pryor, a lawyer, parish planning commissioner and member of the club, which is 1,504 players strong, the sixth-largest in the state.
“When we get that done, it will be a tremendous facility, and it will be a revenue generator for the parish,” Pryor said.
Club President Jared Moss last week sent out an email in which he indicted that money for the soccer field project had been cut by the Parish Council and would be reinstated at a council meeting March 2. He encouraged members to attend the meeting, but the council moved the issue to the Finance Committee.
But Councilman Travis Turner, chairman of the parish Recreation Committee that is overseeing the project, said Friday the council’s contribution to the complex’s funding was never in danger.
Funding for the soccer complex — cobbled together from parish recreation, road and lighting dollars, in-kind and state capital outlay sources — is about $4.6 million.
Turner said the council did delay a budget amendment Feb. 1 that dealt with a variety of funding matters, including $417,000 for the for the soccer complex.
The budget amendment included $294,000 in capital outlay that was approved by the council last year for the soccer complex, but inadvertently had not been carried over to the 2016 budget.
The problem arose when about $123,000 in recreation dollars was added to the amendment to help cover anticipated costs for field dirt work for the complex, but was never approved by the council.
Turner said that when council members saw the amendment, they wanted to know how much the soccer complex was going to cost.
Turner was quick to point out during a Friday interview that $1.2 million for the lights in the parishwide facility is coming from a Geismar-area road-lighting tax district, for which his constituents alone pay the tax.
The lighting district’s contribution to the soccer complex has been a sore topic for Turner after funding for a $2 million renovation and expansion of a basketball and volleyball gym at Lamar-Dixon was blocked at the committee level on grounds that too much recreation money was being spent at Lamar-Dixon — with the soccer fields listed as a prime example.
Turner, the councilman who pushed to delay passage of the amendment, said it never occurred to him to cut funding for the soccer fields.
“If I was going to take it back, I would have taken back the whole $1.2 million,” he said.
On Monday, with the soccer club’s members on hand, the Finance Committee again took up the budget amendment for the gym’s first phase, the soccer fields and other matters and pushed them toward a final council vote later this month: $453,000 for the gym and the original $294,000 for the soccer field.
Councilman Aaron Lawler, a supporter of the soccer complex, said the delay last month in approving the amendment gave Turner a chance to get the $453,000 for the gym in front of the council for its approval. Plans call for the gym to be reconfigured from one to two courts for about $315,000.
A second, still unfunded phase, which will cost another $1.6 million, would add a third court and add more room for a local youth league’s 1,000 players. The original, blocked plan would have paid for the whole project in one phase.
Lawler and Turner are warning that if the soccer bids come back too high again, the council will have to trim back the project. But Lawler said his priority will be to ensure the fields are top-notch. “It’s going to happen, and it’s just a matter of scope of how well it’s going to happen. I’m not overly concerned about it. I know it’s going to happen,” Lawler said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.