Madera County supervisors want to move forward with a plan to build a sports complex that would attract amateur and youth sporting events – and maybe even the Fresno Fuego – but financing the $18.8 million project is challenging, a Florida-based consultant said Tuesday.
The 72-page study done by the consultant said the county can build a 45-acre sports complex with eight synthetic-turf fields and three support buildings that would cater to soccer, football, rugby, field hockey and potentially lacrosse, but only if the county can absorb the debt.
The idea is to make Madera County a sports tourism destination for large-scale tournaments. The facility also could be used for community recreation.
The goal is to generate tourism dollars: When families of young athletes come to the community, they spend money on food, lodging, gas and other needs.
The soccer aspect also is attractive to the Fresno Fuego semipro soccer team, which is looking for a site to build a 3,000- to 5,000-seat stadium of its own.
Madera County officials admit they will have to find creative ways to finance the project and won’t have money to assist Fuego.
Supervisors will hold meetings with groups that have interest in working on land acquisition or financing.
One proposed site for the soccer complex is near the city of Madera along Highway 99, and a second location is near Highway 41 and Avenue 12, an area where 30,000 new homes are to be built in coming decades.
Along with Fuego management, the county will talk with developers, local Native American tribes, the city of Madera and area school districts.
The complex is getting such serious consideration because the nearest similar projects are in Turlock and Visalia, more than an hour in either direction.
Jeremy Schultz, general manager of the Fuego, said soccer is quickly gaining popularity and a sports complex would help meet the growing demand of players.
“Part of that vision is to have a sports complex, a soccer facility and a soccer-specific stadium, which are some of the things we want to look at bringing to the table,” he told the supervisors.
Both sites have benefits and pitfalls. The Highway 99 site is farther from Fresno, but the Highway 41 site could result in less revenue for the county because of its proximity to Fresno.
The board spent $68,100 on a feasibility study. The consultant, Sports Facilities Advisory-Sports Facilities Management, consults on sports tourism and builds facilities across the country.
In its study, the firm said Madera County could host sporting events that would generate $5.2 million and 10,162 room nights in the first year. By the fifth year, revenue would grow to $9.3 million from 18,329 estimated room nights.
But the sports park also is projected to operate at a deficit ranging from $620,000 the first year to $479,000 in the fifth year, which covers expenses to run the facility and items sold.
“We knew there would be some kind of subsidy to it,” Supervisor Brett Frazier said.
Additionally, long-term debt to pay off the project is estimated as more than $30 million over 30 years, or about $1.1 million annually.
The study’s authors said the project could succeed, but only under certain conditions.
“The goal of becoming financially self-sustaining isn’t feasible in this market,” the study said.
But if project debt was measured against the financial benefits of visitors and having a modern sports complex, the potential for the project improves. the report said.
Eric Fleming, county administrative officer, said the Highway 99 and Highway 41 sites can be examined in detail.
“We can look at financing scenarios and try to put together a preliminary package for both (geographic) areas for your board to consider,” he said.
Supervisor Max Rodriguez, who is supportive of the project, suggested that the county move ahead cautiously.
“I urge this board to be very careful on getting involved in a project like this,” he said. “It’s a dream that we wish would happen, but we have to be very careful because we’re not in a position to absorb a big hit.”