Funding rises for Driver complex

Published 9:07 pm Thursday, March 19, 2015

Though a new capital improvements plan includes funding, a future sports complex that has been in the works for a former Navy site on Sleepy Hole Road for at least a decade could still be a long time coming.

The CIP approved by City Council this month schedules almost $2.5 million for the initial phase of Driver Park Sports Complex.

Lakita Watson, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the project envisions at least four multi-use fields for baseball, soccer, football, lacrosse and various other team sports.

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Restroom, concession, storage and maintenance facilities would also be built, she added.

“It’s part of the (capital improvements) plan, but it’s not recommended for funding until fiscal year 2018,” Watson said.

Watson also noted that the plan is a “living, breathing document” — in other words, liable to change from its current form as funding priorities change.

Watson cited education, public safety and transportation among examples of priorities that could change the plan in subsequent years.

The city was deeded the project site after the 1993 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission recommended closing the Navy Radio Transmitter Facility-Driver.

The defense facility had been established on land acquired in 1941 and first used as a Naval airfield, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been overseeing decontamination efforts.

Meanwhile, plans for the 360-acre sports complex have been scaled back considerably.

In the mid-2000s, the city proposed, in addition to the fields, an amphitheater for 10,000, a 20-acre festival site and an equestrian center. The combined estimated cost was $46.2 million.

Plans were downscaled based on community input, including during public meetings in 2005. A Bennett’s Creek Little League representative said the facility should focus more on sport and less on entertainment. Some landowners were concerned about the impact on traffic and tranquility.

This week, Watson said that volunteer sporting organizations, such as the Little League, don’t have any facility in Suffolk to host tournaments, public or private. “They are having to leave the community for tournaments,” she said.

There’s currently no delivery time for the project, Watson said. The city’s next moves, she said, would involve further refining the plans in consultation with citizens and researching opportunities for non-city funding such as grants.

“We won’t have a full scope … until we are able to put a design together and get some cost estimates with an architectural firm,” Watson said.