by Steven Ludwig, Publisher WilliamsonSource.com
We have wonderful schools, and many of our youth sports programs are among the best in the Country. Highly-effective schools, robust youth sports programs, amazing events and outdoor activities are just a few of the things that created the quality of life desired by so many moving to Williamson County. We also have a County Mayor who seems to simply live for the people of Williamson County. But a host of issues and opportunities are converging to create a time when our County government can act in the long-term interest of our community with bold steps to protect and ensure the quality of life in Williamson County; yet it remains silent:
The Challenges & Opportunities
A-Game Sportsplex. Much reporting has been done by WilliamsonSource.com and other local media about the impending loss of A-Game Sportsplex, and the devastating effects that will have on youth hockey, volleyball, basketball, and other sports – not to mention the negative economic impact on hotels, restaurants, and shops who benefit greatly from weekend tournaments. There is a reason these types of facilities are overwhelmingly municipally-owned and operated in other communities; now we see why. A-Game Sportsplex is saying on its website that it will likely cease operation in the Spring of 2016. This leaves programs like Upward Stars, Alliance Volleyball Club, and Williamson County Public Schools hockey teams with difficult and few choices to replace vital facilities they’ve come to rely on heavily.
Ag Expo Park. Some in the agricultural community have suggested the current Ag Expo Park is too small and/or lacks sufficient facilities to host all the events that could or should be taking place there. A larger, more modern facility could be better utilized, and provide a better flow and growth opportunities for the Williamson County Fair. Plus, the current location of the Ag Expo Park is quickly being swallowed as the city limits of Franklin expand to the Southeast.
Youth Sports Clubs. Many of our youth sports clubs have a need for space. For example, Tennessee Soccer Club needs turf fields for all-weather play, and would be able to host even more tournaments with up to 350 visiting teams. Other clubs face tough sledding to find enough proper facilities. And the likely loss of the A-Game Sportsplex will devastate the robust youth hockey clubs in this area.
MLS Soccer. Nashville FC is just one club attempting to qualify for MLS competition within the next 5 years. A feasibility study would likely conclude that an MLS-ready stadium would make that practically automatic, and rather than see another stadium deal go straight to Nashville, Williamson County could reap the benefits. And such a facility has year-round usefulness (imagine NCAA soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and other tournaments happening there, as well as high-end youth sports tournaments).
These are just a few examples. There are many more.
One of Many Possible Solutions
Combining all these needs (and any others that are found to be feasible) into a targeted development zone as close to the intersection of I-65 and Hwy 840 as possible would provide the leadership and direction needed in Williamson County for the next decade, and perhaps the decade after that. Imagine a large complex with shared parking and proper transportation infrastructure that encompasses (in no particular order):
A Newly-Expanded Agricultural Center and Fair Grounds that could host myriad other festivals in the future, that better serves the Williamson County agricultural community and grows the scale and frequency of events that can be hosted locally…
On-Site Hotels, Restaurants, & Shopping that accommodates the substantial increase in tourism for tournaments, festivals, and both sporting and lifestyle events – anchored by destination retailers like Nebraska Furniture Mart and Cabela’s, and also anchored with an indoor water park like Kalahari for year-round entertainment to draw in addition to other hotels and perhaps light convention space.
MLS-Ready Stadium, Indoor Sportsplex & Surrounding Multi-Purpose Youth Sports Fields that accommodate our local youth sports clubs long into the future with outdoor fields for soccer, lacrosse, and more – as well as indoor multi-use courts for basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and more – as well as enough ice to host our schools, local youth and adult leagues, and major regional youth and adult tournaments.
“Best practices” exist in several parts of the Country, but consider one example in Kansas. When it came time to develop the Kansas Speedway, the government desired a more well-rounded economy around the speedway that provided robust visitor traffic year-round; not just at peak times for high-profile races. They also wanted to fund the massive project without creating new property or income taxes. So they created a defined development zone with its own “recovery tax” on consumer transactions in that zone (i.e. an incremental flat tax on all purchases in the zone) that repays the bonds issued to pay for infrastructure and other improvements that made it possible to attract developers into the project.
It’s more complicated than that, to be fair, but the concept itself is simple enough. And it’s been done over and over again throughout the Country. And what’s best for Kansas may not be the best way for Williamson County. The point is, we do not appear to be exploring these kinds of bold solutions.
Why is it time for bold solutions? The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation presentation to new members cites a study predicting 1,000,000 new residents in Middle Tennessee over the next 15 years, 400,000 of which would settle in Williamson County. And why wouldn’t they want to be here?
Today’s population in Williamson County is right around 200,000. So this forecast, if remotely correct, would mean TRIPLING everything we see today – people, traffic, homes, students in schools, kids in youth sports, etc., etc. – in just 15 years. Creating a new development zone and anchoring it with several pillars of our quality of life here in Williamson County does three very important things:
Takes the Pressure Off Cool Springs. We can’t just keep putting everything new into Cool Springs before it becomes worse than Green Hills. Drawing more development further down I-65 allows Hwy 840 to begin spreading development more evenly, and takes advantage of transportation infrastructure improvements already made.
Protects Quality of Life for the Next 20 Years. A clear development strategy, led by our County government, sets the tone and direction for developers and municipalities to follow – so that IF
the population of Williamson County triples (or even just doubles) we’re more prepared, and that growth has the potential to be far more orderly.
Sets the Tone For Economic Development Efforts. We’ve been competing very well for quality job-creation here in Williamson County, and in Tennessee in general. But we can’t sit back and expect that to continue without maintaining our edge. The same foresight that went into developing Cool Springs over the last 20 years needs to go into planning for our next 20 years.
Maybe we’re not looking close enough, or maybe it’s happening in the back rooms of the entrenched good ‘ole boy network, but it baffles us why – especially in the face of how devastating the loss of A-Game Sportsplex will be – economically, and from a quality of life standpoint – why there isn’t more public debate going on about how to solve challenges staring us plain in the face that threaten the quality of life that drew us all here in the first place.
Mayor Anderson? Williamson County Board? How can we, the people, help you get the conversation going? Much of the damage has become all but inevitable because of inaction to this point, but we as a community can do much better than nothing. Go big in your thinking. If not now, when?
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