Ottumwa SportsPlex render

A 3D graphic rendering of the proposed Ottumwa SportsPlex building.

OTTUMWA — Wapello County supervisor Brian Morgan has said all along the proposed indoor Ottumwa SportsPlex will be a "business."

"I've always tried to be up front and honest with this thing. It's going to lose money in the first two, 2 1/2 years, just like every business does," he said. "We'd love to cut that back, but I feel the due diligence has been done to see the long-term success.

"I think people of Wapello County, and even the region, will be very surprised and happy."

The long-term prospects are why the board of supervisors during Tuesday's meeting unanimously approved a donation of $2.5 million as "last money in" to the project. The money will come from the county's American Rescue Plan allotment, but is contingent on the rest of the money being raised for the estimated $9 million project.

"We want to make sure that the project is going to happen," Morgan said. "So when the funds are raised and all those commitments are there, then it'll trigger our money that's going in."

With the county's donation, plus other verbal and firm commitments, about $2.5 million still needs to be raised privately in the next year. The 60,000-square foot SportsPlex will have a track, turf football and soccer fields, baseball and softball infields and three full-size basketball courts in a building west of The Beach in Sycamore Park.

"There's a lot of distrust in Ottumwa and Wapello County on projects like this," said Morgan, who is vice chair of the non-profit Southeast Iowa Sports Commission. "Frankly, I voted against Bridge View Center every time, but it is what it is. But I do think this will spur better things and better facilities around Ottumwa as well."

Supervisor Jerry Parker, a proponent of the SportsPlex, asked Morgan several questions that people in the community would ask about the project, such as ownership (the sports commission), board representation and public access to the complex aside from sports teams.

"Our bylaws state that the city, county and school district will always have a dedicated seat on the board," Morgan said. "And we'll have some at-large roles. We definitely want someone with a vision of the sports landscape and in Wapello County as well."

Along with the motion to make the donation, Morgan also recommended free memberships for the life of the facility to county employees as a wellness perk, which could keep insurance costs down. He also said he want the public to purchase memberships. Early discussions have projected possible $50 individual memberships and somewhere in the $100 to $120 range for families.

"The goal is to keep membership costs efficient, but that's not really where the money is made," he said. "The money's made on bringing and holding the tournaments on the weekends."

Morgan said projections for the complex would create two full-time jobs — a facilities manager and a marketing employee — as well as part-time help.

"You have to have someone there to promote it, or it's not going to happen," he said. "Those full-time positions will make sure the place is full on weekends. We can't go to the city coffers or county coffers and say we're $100,000 short and ask if they can write us a check. It's going to be up to the board, the people running it, to sell the advertising and then get people in the building."

Parker asked Morgan what happens if the SportsPlex doesn't make money, citing big hopes from The Beach and Bridge View Center.

"It's a business, but it's a privately held facility," Morgan said. "If it got to a point that it could be rented out to a bigger entity who could see the value in taking it on ... I feel tourism dollars and facilities like this go hand in hand.

"But I think the majority of people that have kids that travel already see the benefit of it, and it's been met with really overwhelming positive responses," he said. "We've said from the beginning it has to make money, and it doesn't matter who you are as a taxing entity, we can't afford any losers anymore."

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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