A proposed soccer “complex” on Audubon Park’s “Fly” has generated quite a controversy.
When it came to light, thousands signed an online petition in opposition within days. Hundreds have shown up on two recent Sundays to protest — and have a beer or two.
Clearly, this took many people by surprise. If you walked The Fly this past gorgeous Sunday afternoon and asked if people knew about filling in the loop road (and more) with a new soccer complex, most were dumbfounded: Who is doing what and why? And who said they could?
Here’s the deal: The city owns the land — no question. Responsibility for operating the park is vested in the Audubon Commission — 24 pillars of the community appointed by the mayor, with the City Council’s consent. The commission has its own taxing authority, collecting 3.31 mills of your property taxes for the park and the aquarium.
The commission contracts with the Audubon Nature Institute, a nonprofit corporation, for the actual management of the park. The Nature Institute has its own distinguished board.
This soccer complex arises from dealings between the Nature Institute and Carrollton Boosters, another organization with a distinguished record and board.
Carrollton Boosters already operates a complex of fenced, locked baseball fields at The Fly. To them and their backers, the soccer complex is a response to an obvious need — and a reasonable use of “under-utilized” space. To detractors, it is a land grab of public green space, “sacred” space to some.
In truth, we never should have gotten here.
What’s needed is improvement in the process for determining the future use of such public lands — and of public money (though the funding for the soccer complex is said to be all private). Perhaps the idea of a semi-autonomous entity having fairly unfettered control of a public park made sense in 1914 when the commission was created. I’m not sure it does now.
Try Googling “Audubon Commission meeting.” Let me know if you find when and where the next one is. They meet once a quarter, but their meetings aren’t easy to find. And the Audubon Park Master Plan, a public document that should be readily available? I’m still looking.
A schematic “leaked” from that plan shows a restaurant and education center on the riverfront at The Fly — and more soccer fields. Whatever one’s opinion of soccer complexes or riverfront restaurants, I pray we find a better way to provide public notice and seek public input into such major public developments before the next surprise at The Fly or any of the other public spaces controlled by the commission.