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Sports complex feasibility report

The Madison Parks Commission probed a consultant's report Wednesday that suggests a $38.3 million sports complex on Madison's Southeast Side.

The Madison Parks Commission probed the concept of constructing a $38.3 million sports complex on the city’s Southeast Side at a meeting last week.

Commission members on Wednesday asked about the cost and impact of a study that suggests turning 74 acres of land owned by the city and Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison near the interchange of Interstate 39/90 and the Beltline into indoor and outdoor sports facilities.

“In the next five years, we absolutely need more field space,” said Madison parks superintendent Eric Knepp.

The report recommends a 15,188-square-foot building as a family entertainment center, and a 101,865-square-foot dome structure with a turf field, batting cages, pitching tunnels and other amenities.

These facilities and 468 parking spaces to support them would be on 6 acres owned by the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Outside, there would be four grass and eight turf multipurpose fields, support and maintenance buildings, and 960 parking spots across 67.5 acres of city-owned property.

It’s unclear how the joint venture would be financed as it’s still at a conceptual level.

Clearwater, Florida-based Sports Facilities Advisory created the $70,000 report, which was paid for by the city and the tribe.

Dan Morton, a project manager for the company, said the biggest need in the region for sports facilities is “tournament quality” multipurpose fields.

Knepp said a complex like this could act as a “relief valve” to move organized games and tournaments from neighborhood parks, freeing up those spaces for residents.

Commission chairman David Wallner questioned who would pay to improve the surrounding roads to reach the facility and how that could impact the overall cost.

In the first year, the complex would run a $227,000 deficit, but by the fifth year, the operation is predicted to have a $3.4 million revenue for a $490,000 profit, according to the study.

On top of that, the report said the facilities would generate an estimated $15.8 million in economic impact, such as visitors renting hotel rooms and going out to eat, by the fifth year.

Commission member Nancy Ragland was skeptical of how the debt that the city could incur on financing such a project might affect its sustainability.

“That $38 million isn’t going to fall out of the sky,” she said.

Ald. Samba Baldeh was concerned that low-income residents would not be able to take advantage of the facilities.

Evan Eleff, executive vice president of Sports Facilities Advisory, said it would be up to the project’s partners how they manage the complex and whether they would be willing to absorb a loss in profit to allow for increased accessibility.

Knepp stressed that the city should first figure out how to shore up its floundering four-course municipal golf operation.

One of the options to fix those financial woes includes reducing holes at the 36-hole Yahara Hills Golf Course.

The sports complex would be next to the golf course.

“We ought to know way before we make a decision on this what we’re doing on golf,” Knepp said.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.