Wilmington officials are kicking around options for where to place the soccer and multi-purpose fields included in last year’s parks bond.
In the fall of 2016, voters gave the city approval to borrow about $30 million for $38 million in parks projects, including $10 million for soccer and multi-use fields.
Mayor Bill Saffo said this week that a more than 30-acre tract in Echo Farms is one of at least four sites on the list of possibilities for the fields project. Two others involve land off of or near Independence Boulevard, including what's referred to as “the Flossie Bryant Tract,” named after the resident who left land to New Hanover County in her will.
Amy Beatty, the city's director of community services, said city staff members are evaluating a proposal to place the fields on unused land that’s part of the Hammerheads Youth facility Cape Fear Soccer Park, at 205 Sutton Steam Plant Road.
Any potential sites have to be studied to determine the pros and cons, like any other parks project, Saffo said.
“I think the City Council is taking it’s time about getting all the information necessary to make the best decision for what citizens asked us to do,” Saffo said. "When you put these things together, you've got to try to get all the questions answered that you can."
But time could be running out if city officials want to acquire the Echo Farms land.
In December, Matrix Development Group, the owner and developer of Echo Farms, submitted a site plan to the city that would replace the Echo Farms golf course with additional housing and new recreation areas.
In April, Matrix CEO Joe Taylor said that after working with a residents' group called Save Echo Farms and hearing some interest from local elected officials, the company would be, under the right circumstances, “willing to sell it to them [the city or county] for a park.” Save Echo Farms had issued a call in July for residents on its Facebook page
to attend meetings this month and contact officials about the city buying the site for fields, saying "the choice comes down to fighting to save this 32 acres as soccer fields OR a mutli-story, multi-family housing development."
This week, Taylor said of the potential sports fields, “I know that there are a number of residents that are pushing very hard for it. We are more than happy to facilitate it, but we just need the mayor and city council to decide what they want to do.”
The potential field site is adjacent to the pool and tennis complex at Echo Farms in a tract that was otherwise designated to hold 31 townhomes and 220 apartments in preliminary plans for the Matrix golf course redevelopment project, called The Woodlands at Echo Farms.
“At some point we either have to move ahead with the city or we just have to go ahead and design our development and finalize its approvals and get going because that’s a lengthy process,” Taylor said Thursday.
As part of the Cape Fear Soccer Park proposal, the city could put five to seven fields at the park, which already has seven fields but also a total site size of 68 acres, Beatty said.
Carson Porter, executive director of Wilmington Hammerheads Youth FC, said the group has 2,500 youth players.
“There’s a need for soccer fields, I think, throughout the city. . .Soccer is the most-played sport amongst youth in our country, so it’s always the first sport that gets spoken about when people talk about fields,” Porter said.
Beatty said city staff members couldn't provide any additional details on sites under consideration, such as more specifics of the midtown options, because they are potential real estate acquisitions.