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City is offsides in building soccer fields

Carlos Rodriguez was disappointed when newly elected Mayor Phil Hardberger killed the Major League Soccer deal in June. The president of the San Antonio Soccer Association men's league says that hosting professional soccer games at the Alamodome would have catalyzed the city into building needed soccer fields for local adult and youth soccer teams.

During the past 10 years, amateur soccer has generated $24 million in tourism dollars to the Alamo City, but construction of Verizon Wireless Amphitheater took a big bite out of the availability of soccer fields, says Rodriguez.

"When we had 450 teams here, and they played at Retama before the Verizon complex was built there, we would usually fill 30 to 40 hotels for travelers during an off-tourism season; we can't do that anymore."

Teams came from all over Texas to play soccer in San Antonio. Off the field, they attended the lighting of Christmas lights on the River Walk, bought tickets to Fiesta Texas, Sea World, and other local tourist attractions.

Rodriguez says if the City builds more soccer fields, the fans will return. Dean Dahlquist is the president of the Northeast Youth Soccer Organization, which has nearly 200 teams of children ranging from 4 to 18. Soccer teams have 11 players, with five to seven substitutes. Add their families, who typically drive into town to watch the kiddies play in tournaments and spend money at local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses, and the tourism industry receives a boost.

"I want to do a major new park, but we simply don't have the money now to do it,"

Mayor Phil Hardberger

Dahlquist says his organization conducted a study about three years ago that showed San Antonio lags behind other major Texas cities in number of soccer fields: Dallas had about 400, Houston 300, and Austin 160, yet San Antonio could only count 60, and that's when the teams could play in Selma.

Dahlquist says the City's Parks and Recreation Department has confused its priorities. "There was a bond issue in 2003, and people voted for athletic fields. There was $1.4 million for McAllister Park, and they put in a $150,000 dog park. We don't need a dog park in McAllister."

And why can Boerne build six soccer fields, complete with lighting, for $600,000 when park officials reportedly told Dahlquist it would cost $400,000 to build a soccer field in McAllister Park?

"San Antonio is one of the top 10 saddest cities in the United States ... it has gotten an F in regards to parks," Dahlquist says.

There are differing views on the subject of soccer fields.

"I favor more soccer fields for our kids to play on," says Mayor Hardberger. "It is a great sport, growing in popularity, and we don't have enough soccer fields."

But they are low on his priority list. "I want to do a major new park, but we simply don't have the money now to do it," he adds. "So, I'm, temporarily at least, putting that to the side."

District 3 Councilman Roland Gutierrez says the City has allocated $700,000 to build six soccer fields at Brooks City Base. "The voters voted for soccer fields, and the money has not been used. MLS tried to hijack the project."

Meaning, the MLS deal would have sucked $22 million out of City coffers to ready the Alamodome for professional soccer leagues.

"It was certainly something I campaigned against," says Gutierrez. "It wasn't conducive to the City; it wasn't a good mix."

Gutierrez says the San Antonio Sports Foundation wants to build up to 18 soccer fields at Brooks City Base, and is working toward that goal. "We're trying to get the project up to speed next year, to start construction, level the playing fields, add parking areas, and we're getting good cooperation from Brooks City Base."

"I'm not at all familiar with it," says Lila Cockrell, president and executive director of the San Antonio Parks Foundation. She says the parks department has not made soccer fields a priority, and the foundation is concentrating all of its energy on restoring the Sunken Gardens and the theater in Brackenridge Park. "I have heard it discussed, but it's not a project."

To clear up the confusion, we tried calling Parks and Recreation Director Malcolm Matthews, but he deferred the question to parks planner Scott Stover, who is on vacation.

Rodriguez says local soccer enthusiasts are eager to talk to Hardberger about the City's shameful showing in providing soccer fields for local adult and youth leagues.

"We haven't pressed the issue yet. We're waiting to see if he will do anything like he promised."

By Michael Cary

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