By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — An estimated $396,000 plan to add parking lots, fencing, bleachers and trails to a 10-field soccer complex in upper North Mankato was approved unanimously Monday by the North Mankato City Council.
The council didn’t approve the spending itself, only the plans necessary to put this work, the second of three phases, out for bids. That’s slated to happen in May.
Still, taking this step was difficult for Councilman Kim Spears, who argued that Benson Park should be a higher priority because it started first and will be used by a wider swath of residents.
“If this is truly for our youth, there are plenty of soccer facilities for the youth to use,” he said.
Spears eventually voted for the plan because of the commitments made to the school district and the youth soccer club. Mankato Area Public Schools donated 10 acres and the Mankato United Soccer Club has so far donated $150,000 in cash and committed to fund a $100,000 lighting system.
“We’ve gone down a certain road,” Spears said.
Mayor Mark Dehen said the complex will help develop the area and bring tournaments to town.
“I would argue this has the opportunity to generate revenues that Benson Park will not,” he said.
Spears was skeptical: “I have yet to see one study or one proof of revenues from these things.”
The council has already spent $580,000 on the first phase, City Planner Mike Fischer said. Combined with phase three, which will include an additional parking lot, the total price for the soccer complex is estimated at roughly $1.2 million.
The city’s share comes from its half-percent local sales tax.
Resident Phil Henry asked the council if the city would be borrowing any money to build the complex. In light of the city’s recent credit downgrade, he said that would be a bad idea.
“Slow down on this project until we have the money,” he said.
City Administrator John Harrenstein said despite the city’s “financial headwinds,” it has dedicated revenues toward the project, though not enough to fund it all. He also said the city may be reducing the project’s size in the future.
In any case, though, he said it’s “not my intent to have the council borrow any money for this project.”
Depending on how well the grass grows, the fields will be open for play this fall or next spring. They won’t be open to the public, though. The facility, called the Caswell North Soccer Complex, is operated on the business model of its cousin to the south. Part of this phase includes an estimated $66,000 for fences and gates.
The soccer facility will have a “premier” field, two regulation fields and seven fields for children. A concessions building is also planned for the second phase, though it is not included in these plans because the city is hoping to use donated materials and city labor. Fischer said the city has verbal commitments for donated blocks and trusses.
“It’s not included in there (the plans) but certainly would be a project we would want to do in 2013,” he said.
This story has been corrected. The fields will not be the home of a Mankato high school team, as the original story claimed. In addition, the original story said the Mankato United Soccer Club donated $250,000, but the club actually donated $150,000 in cash and has made a commitment to fund a $100,000 lighting system.