Swope Village soccer expansion is approved

Construction is expected to begin immediately on a $13.4 million expansion of the Swope Park soccer complex following approval Thursday by the Kansas City Council.

The Swope Village soccer plan calls for adding six fields and making other improvements to the current three-field complex at 63rd Street and Hardesty Avenue.

Backers, including Sporting Kansas City, hope to have a championship-caliber grass field with bleachers for fans completed in time for the Big 12 women’s soccer tournament this fall. The tournament also will be in Kansas City in 2014.

“We want to start as soon as possible,” said Robb Heineman, president of Ongoal LLC, the owner of the Sporting KC professional soccer club. “We have an opportunity this fall with the Big 12 women’s soccer championship.”

The five other fields in the Swope Village expansion will use artificial turf and be completed by fall 2014 along with other upgrades that include renovated restrooms, concessions, lighting, bleachers and parking. When finished, city officials say, the complex will be one of the finest available in an urban setting.

“The driver always was youth soccer in the urban core,” said Councilwoman Cindy Circo, who has championed the project for more than a year. “Nationally, you don’t see these complexes in the urban core.”

Although the complex won’t be as large as some of the soccer complexes in Johnson County, backers say it should attract smaller tournaments as well as collegiate events, rugby and lacrosse.

The current soccer complex at Swope Park was developed by Sporting KC in 2007 at a cost of $4.1 million and includes the club’s practice facility.

Greg Cotton, chief of staff and general counsel for the soccer club, said the new facility will greatly expand the opportunities for holding major soccer events.

“The youth soccer will be on the east side of Lewis Road, and the west side will have the championship field with additional locker rooms and training facilities for clubs coming from overseas,” he said.

He added that the emphasis will be on providing opportunities for young people. The project has the strong backing of the Brookside Soccer Club, an amateur association that promotes soccer in the city.

“We want more kids playing on high-performance fields so we can develop great players,” Cotton said.

Circo said the expanded soccer complex also will help the city attract more users to Swope Park, the second-largest municipal park in the country. In addition, the regular attendance of large numbers of players and family members is expected to spur additional development in the area.

The Swope Village project was not without controversy, at least in its first incarnation. City officials had hoped to divert surplus funds from a tax increment financing district established to help build the nearby Winchester office park to fund the project.

But officials with the Raytown school district, Mid-Continent Public Library and Jackson County objected strongly to the TIF revenues being used for an unrelated project. A compromise ultimately was reached that will use only the TIF revenues due to the city and county to finance the expansion.

The plan also was opposed by the Swope Ridge Neighborhood Association. Members said the deal, which calls for $1.5 million in TIF revenues to go toward infrastructure improvements, including upgraded septic tanks, and $900,000 for improvements to Bennett Road, fell far short of what was promised to their area.