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Wednesday, 21 November 2012 14:55

Macon eyes 50-acre site for league-caliber softball complex

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“Take me out to the ballgame,” is how the old song goes. But the question for Macon County residents in coming years may be “which one?”, as county commissioners lay plans to purchase an expanse of land that would be big enough for eight new fields fit for America’s favorite pastime.

At a meeting earlier this month, the Macon County Board of Commissioners approved an offer of $550,000 for a nearly 50-acre-tract of land a few miles outside of Franklin. The meeting room was full of baseball coaches and softball players from the county who gathered in support of the measure.

The deal will be finalized pending a 30-day due diligence period during which the county will survey the land for potential problems and conduct environmental studies.

The addition of eight new fields — four full-sized fields and four youth fields — could put Macon on the map as one of the premier places in Western North Carolina to host large little league tournaments as well as relieve some of the scheduling conflicts occurring now amidst its own local leagues.

“We’re playing on six fields and I had 82 teams this year,” said county Recreation Director Seth Adams.

He said the overall the county has more than 1,000 baseball players, ranging from females in the women leagues, small children in little league to 80-year-olds participating in church softball games.

And although preliminary sketches are already drawn depicting the plot with two cloverleaf groupings of baseball diamonds as well as adjoining parking areas, Adams said the plans aren’t fixed and the final site development may accommodate more than baseball.

A walking path around the property, a playground, a Frisbee golf course and a soccer field are likely to find their way into the future project, Adams said. Basketball and soccer are two other popular sports in the county, and the site is ideal for most types of recreation because it is flat — a rare commodity in the mountains.

“Nothing is set in stone as far as the plans for that site,” he said. “In my opinion we have blank space.”

But one of the focal points of the recent commissioners’ meeting was a presentation by county Economic Development Director Tommy Jenkins. He touted the benefits of the eight additional baseball fields and their potential to attract money to the area through hosting tournaments.

He estimated that one overnight little league tournament with 24 teams could have an economic impact on the area of more than $250,000 as families, players and fans stayed in local motels, ate at restaurants and bought gas and other goods.

“I presented a plan for a single tournament,” Jenkins said. “That’s not a whole season.”

To make the investment worthwhile, Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin said the county could bring more than 20 tournaments per season to the area. Although, if all goes according to plan, the property will most likely not be ready until summer of 2014.

Macon County could be reimbursed up to $500,000 of the land and development costs from the state through its Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, Corbin said. But the state money is contingent on a grant application process.

Regardless, Corbin said the county got a deal on the land. Since it is flat minimal grading would be necessary and the purchase price was some $200,000 below the assessed value.

“From the county’s standpoint we saw an opportunity to get real good piece of property for a good price,” he said. “And we’ve essentially doubled our recreation space.”

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