When Hilliard City Council on July 24 created a nine-member sports commission, the purpose was to determine best uses for the city’s green space, parks and athletics fields, according to Councilman Les Carrier.
He said the commission first would learn how parks and green space are being used, consider policy or guidelines for such uses and also establish uses for undeveloped city-owned land on the east side of Cosgray Road – land known locally as the Grener property.
“The Grener property is not just about recreation but (also) about economic activity in our city,” Carrier said.
However, at least one local sports organization seems wary of the commission, as Dwight Burgess, director of operations for Hilliard Ohio Soccer Association, was not among those who applied to serve on it.
What that means remains to be seen, but Burgess told ThisWeek the commission could represent “a fundamental change” for an organization that has held a lease with the city since 2000 to improve, maintain and manage the Hilliard Soccer Complex.
“I’m not saying (if the commission) is good or bad but it’s (suggesting) a fundamental change,” he said.
The sports commission is structured as an advisory committee to City Council, law director Tracy Bradford said. That means it has no power to regulate and only may make recommendations.
It will meet monthly at 6 p.m. each second Tuesday of the month, and meetings will be open to the public. The next meeting is Sept. 12 at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way.
The commission’s nine members will serve terms of one, two or three years.
The authorizing resolution for the commission required one appointed representative from Hilliard City Schools, City Council, the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce, Destination Hilliard and Mayor Don Schonhardt or his designee. They were nominated by the organizations and then confirmed by City Council, according to council clerk Lynne Fasone.
Carrier will represent City Council on the commission. He is expected to be appointed Aug. 28.
Other nominated and confirmed members are Assistant Superintendent Mike McDonough; Hilliard finance director David Delande, who is serving as the mayor’s designee; Libby Gierach, president and CEO of the chamber of commerce; and Chris Lardiere, who represents Destination Hilliard.
City Council and Schonhardt made two appointments each from a pool of 10 applicants to fill out the commission. Requirements to apply included residency in the school district, with a preference for relevant experience, she said.
Schonhardt appointed Jim Dietz, a partner in Behal Sampson Dietz, an architectural and construction firm, and Nicolaus Gordon, a local attorney who has experience with youth baseball, according to his resume.
City Council chose Charlie Steitz of the Hilliard Baseball Association and Steve Ryan, who is general manager of Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports.
Burgess said two members of HOSA applied for consideration but neither was selected: Bill Morris, the board of directors president for HOSA, and Ed Porter, a past president of the board, according to the city.
Also missing from the commission is Hilliard Parks and Recreation director Steve Mazer. However, Mazer said, he did not apply to the commission in deference to Delande, and he expects to be involved down the line.
“Once they are deeper into it, I think there will be some questions for me,” he said.
Dietz, who was voted commission chairman by his peers, said the first task would be to gather information.
“The first thing we need to do is to get an idea of what’s in front of us,” he said.
Bradford has been tasked with soliciting information from dozens of athletics organizations that use the city’s parks and fields.
“We’re asking (Bradford) to gather information about how many players are on their rosters, how often they play, where they are playing and what they are charging,” Carrier said.
This will include the Hilliard Baseball Association, HOSA and clubs that play soccer, baseball, flag football, lacrosse and other field sports, he said.
Carrier indicated the former Grener property on Cosgray Road would be an important part of the commission’s plan.
In 2015, the city purchased 103 acres, at $40,000 per acre, from the Hilliard City Schools. The city then sold 7 acres at the north end of the parcel to Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports.
The 95 remaining acres are available for the city’s recreation programs.
But Carrier said he sees another benefit: building playing fields that could play host to regional tournaments that would fill Hilliard’s hotels and restaurants.
Events like the Club Ohio Nike Challenge Cup being held at a new city sports complex could be a financial boon for the community, he said.
Carrier also said he wants the commission to use the information to gauge how efficiently and effectively parks are being used, overused or even underused.
“I have a concern when one club, such as HOSA, is solely responsible for managing the fields,” Carrier said.
He said the city-owned soccer-complex fields should be considered for other uses.
Burgess said he was not asked to participate in forming the sports commission and he views it as redundant.
In addition to HOSA already working with the city’s recreation and parks department, he said, the Hilliard Area Sports Commission already meets quarterly to discuss how fields are used.
“No other group has ever told us they think it is unfair how the soccer complex is being used,” he said.
Burgess said the meetings are arranged through Destination Hilliard, the organization in charge of promoting the city and acting as a visitors bureau.
Christy Clark, executive director of Destination Hilliard, said the 18-member Hilliard Area Sports Commission was founded in 2015 but despite the almost identical names, she does not consider the city’s advisory commission a redundancy.
“They serve different purposes,” Clark said.
The Hilliard Area Sports Commission “looks at what kind of tournaments can we bring to Hilliard” and City Council’s sports commission will look at the current and future uses of city-owned parks, she said.
Clark said the Hilliard Area Sports Commission evolved from a City Council grant to study ways and means to attract regional sporting events to Hilliard.
The city has two agreements with HOSA to improve and maintain the fields at the Hilliard Soccer Complex, 6371 Scioto Darby Creek Road, Bradford said.
One is for 53 acres and was executed in January 2003 for four years, with four four-year renewals, and would terminate at the end of 2022, she said.
The other agreement with HOSA is for 29 acres and was executed in October 2000. It also was a four-year agreement, with four four-year renewals, and would terminate in October 2020, she said.
The city may terminate the agreement with a one-year notice to HOSA, Bradford said.
“Under both agreements, HOSA is to provide all the routine maintenance to the fields, including mowing, fertilizing, weed control, repair of the fields and post-game litter control,” Bradford said.
Additionally, HOSA is responsible for scheduling the fields and obtaining referees.
HOSA is the primary user of the fields from March 1 to Nov. 15 each year, but the city and the public have the right to use the fields if it does not interfere with scheduled games, according to Bradford.
The initial lease also required HOSA make improvements to the fields.
“Other than making those improvements and maintaining the fields, there is no other financial obligation of HOSA to the city under the agreements,” Bradford said.
Burgess estimated HOSA spends about $100,000 a year to operate and maintain the soccer complex and that the replacement value of equipment at the site is about $250,000.
When the lease ends, the agreement says all improvements shall become the property of Hilliard, she said, though HOSA is permitted to take bleachers and goals.
Burgess said he believes that other property – including an above-ground irrigation system – still would belong to HOSA.
“Other than a pump house, the only permanent things are the parking lot and the ground itself,” Burgess said.
Fees, sponsorships and rentals provide HOSA’s operating revenue, he said.
In 2015, HOSA began renting the facility for $2,400 per event, he said. The events, brought people from out of town and should have generated revenue for the city, he said.
Burgess said he is unsure what would happen if the sports commission recommended that City Council terminate the lease with HOSA.