Armed with millions in voter-approved bond funds, the city of Hutto is moving forward with parks beautification and improvement projects, including the possible construction of a sports complex.
Hutto City Council members and sports organizations alike agree the construction of sports fields is necessary to fill a gap in available play areas for the city’s youth sports organizations.
All of the city’s youth sports organizations and city officials are now scheduled to meet in December to discuss the largest initial questions surrounding the complex: How large can the city make this complex, and how much of the $50 million voter-approved bond funds can the city solely dedicate to its construction?
“I would like to be able to take some of that money and touch every single park,” Hutto City Council Member Scott Rose said at a Nov. 20 work session.
Council Member Nate Killough in June raised the need for sports fields and venues, telling city officials the city is losing more than 1,000 youth athletes to other cities’ organizations every year. At the time Killough proposed a plot of land east of Fritz Park as a desirable location for a sports complex.
In August officials from Hutto Youth Baseball and Softball, Hutto Youth Soccer Leagues and Hutto Youth Football and Cheer all spoke before city council, urging them to place a $50 million bond proposition on the Nov. 6 ballot.
That night council voted to put that proposition up for voter approval alongside two other city bond propositions. All of the bond propositions were approved by city voters Nov. 6.
Now Hutto must decide how to spend those bond funds across the city’s parks. The city’s sports organizations are desperate for additional sports fields as participation demand has outgrown facility space, said Jimmy Slingsby, Hutto Youth Baseball and Softball president.
“Our league has grown every season,” Slingsby said. “Right now we only have two fields you can truly play games on, and we divide that up between 400 kids.” Hutto needs to add “a handful” of fields to meet demand, Slingsby told Community Impact Newspaper.
As a result youth sports organizations in Hutto are bleeding youth athletes to other cities. Slingsby said there are as many Hutto girls playing softball in Round Rock as there are Hutto girls playing softball with his organization.
The city is also missing out on potential income from visiting sports teams, according to Leslie Dehart, president of Hutto Youth Soccer Leagues. In October, Dehart told Community Impact Newspaper that the organization has been forced to hold tournaments in surrounding cities due to the lack of field space for traveling teams.
“People want to go out to eat and sit down at a local restaurant. They need a place to stay; they need a place to eat,” Dehart said.
Surrounding cities may already have the jump, though. Round Rock has two high-quality sports complexes that host a wide range of sports from soccer to rugby to lacrosse to table tennis. Pflugerville has invested $8 million in just the first phase of 1849 Park. Georgetown’s McMaster Athletic Complex features four softball fields, two soccer fields, four sand volleyball courts, a multipurpose field and more.
Slingsby said the city will have to think “outside of the box” to create a competitive sports complex for economic development purposes. One proposition Slingsby floated is constructing turf baseball fields to offer fields that are essentially weatherproof.
In its first discussion about the bond funds since the Nov. 6 election, Hutto City Council members do not seem keen to dedicate the $50 million solely to athletic fields. Council Member Tim Jordan on Nov. 20 stated he would like to finish out Fritz Park, and Hutto Lake Park improvements were also discussed.
It is possible the city will work with a developer to build the complex as a cost shaving measure. Hutto City Manager Odis Jones on Nov. 20 told council that developers have expressed interest, but he did not clarify if the work would be on a sports complex or otherwise.
For Slingsby and Hutto Youth Baseball and Softball, the decision is an immediate imperative. Slingsby stated the organization has set its participation quota around 400 athletes this year.
“Last year we were at our breaking point. We couldn’t get what everybody needed,” Slingsby said.
Without additional ballfields to play on, Slingsby said the organization will likely have to turn kids away this spring.