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Soccer Plan Heads to Voters

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Drawing of the proposed fields in South Overland Park. Johnson County residents will vote on a $75 million bond measure to pay for the 24 tournament quality fields on Tuesday, November 7th.

By Maria Carter

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Kansas City, MO – All sides agree Johnson County loves soccer. Supporters of a soccer proposal point to just how many kids kick around a soccer ball in the county's leagues. Some 19-thousand soccer games are played there each year, putting the suburban county in the top ten nationally for per capita soccer participation. Johnson County voters will consider a bond measure on Tuesday to build more fields to accommodate the growing demand, but opponents of the proposal call it misleading. KCUR's Maria Carter reports.

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Backers of the soccer measure say Johnson County simply does not have enough soccer fields. The fields are booked full during soccer season and some kids don't even get to play on a real field they're stuck in the outfield at baseball parks. Johnson County Parks and Recreation director Michael Meador says the proposed youth soccer complex at 159th and US 69 would help remedy the situation

Meador: Whether teams choose to practice at this site or not, what it will do is increase the carrying capacity of the existing fields and playgrounds and some of those of same softball and baseball outfields that are being used now for practices.

But Meador isn't just talking about any old fields. These would be 24 lighted, tournament quality fields, attracting teams from far and wide.

Meador: Twenty percent of the time we are looking at hosting national and regional level tournaments

Supporters say these fields and the teams they'd bring in would pump some 24 million dollars into the economy each year, but critics of the measure like Joyce Mallard say the fields are hand outs to big business.

Mallard: It's not about these fields. It's about the Wizards professional stadium and the retail component.

Supporters acknowledge the soccer fields are part of a larger vision for the area. Price Brother Real Estate owns the land at 159th street and U-S 69 and plans to develop 100 acres neighboring the soccer fields into a retail and entertainment district. The company stands to make almost 17 million dollars by selling the proposed soccer site to the County. The Wizards also stands to benefit. The professional soccer team is in negotiations with Overland Park to build a new soccer stadium. Supporters say having these three components youth soccer, a retail area, and a professional stadium would benefit each other, making soccer more of a destination for out of town tournaments. And Price Real Estate is not sitting out this election. The Kansas City Star reports Price has been a major contributor to the Yes on Soccer campaign, kicking in some 500-thousand dollars to help buy TV ads and to send out flyers. Soccer supporters like County Commissioner David Lindstrom say they've never hidden the fact that more is slated for the area than just soccer fields, but Lindstrom says only soccer is on the ballot

Lindstrom: The bottom line is if voters approve this a soccer park will be built and that none of the money for this will be spent on anything other than a soccer park. It will not be spent on the Wizards, a stadium, or any retail development.

In fact, the ballot language limits the money being spent on a park that would include the fields, a community center, playgrounds, and a hiking trail. But corporate tie-ins are not the opponents only concern.

Thomas: This is the worst real estate deal since the Indians gave away Manhattan island for 24 dollars in beads.

Tracy Thomas fronts the taxpayer group Shawnee Mission First that is opposed to the soccer bond measure. She says the county would have to pay too much for the proposed site and a better deal is needed.

Thomas: I urge people to vote no even if they are for youth soccer, so we can go back to the drawing board and come up with a realistic affordable plan. Because we will work with them to provide the needs of the young kids who want to play soccer. No one's against youth soccer. We're just against a terrible plan.

Other sites have been considered, including one near the Great Mall of the Great Plains in Olathe that was about 26 million dollars cheaper. Officials say that site was rejected because it was too small, fitting in fewer fields. They say current location is more centrally located. Plus, the Wizards are in negotiations to relocate to Overland Park. The Overland Park city council voted in September to pursue funding for the stadium and retail district through STAR bonds.

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