Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 | 2 a.m.
North Las Vegas resident David McCollum discovered the city’s plan to build a fence around Tropical Breeze Park’s soccer fields during a visit to the park in early July.
The realization shocked him. The public park had created a sense of community in the neighborhood. While most families use the park’s water features, its fields are often used for league play and community pickup games. McCollum takes his dog there six times a week because it was one of the only places they could go that wasn’t paved.
Now, he discovered, the community would be left with fields it can’t even use.
“It’s the park that makes the community livable,” McCollum said. “The fence is not in the best interest of the citizens in the area."
The park’s popularity, however, has outstripped the city’s ability to maintain it. The fence is being built to eliminate any drop-in use and the city will make the fields available to only those who rent them. Mayor John Lee laments charging residents to use a public facility, but he said it was a necessary evil until the city recovers from its financial crisis.
“This is not a new direction we’re taking,” Lee said. “This is just a temporary fix.”
Tropical Breeze Park’s soccer fields are among the nicest in the city. But between routine pickup games and the 12 soccer and football leagues renting Tropical Breeze’s soccer fields, the city has struggled to keep up with maintenance.
Bald patches scar the grass while water bottles and fruit rinds often litter the ground over the weekend. On one Sunday, McCollum estimated that there were 200 bottles left from a soccer tournament.
Mike Henley, North Las Vegas Parks and Recreation deputy director, said the city’s park maintenance staff has been cut from 42 members in 2009 to eight, making it impossible to meet the park’s maintenance demands from weekend to weekend. It costs the city about $55,000 to maintain the park and an additional $40,000 to reseed its worn grass patches. Henley said the city can't afford to maintain the necessary field standards for tournaments and league play if it continues to allow public pickup games.
“You can’t keep off all the people and leagues that use them without us knowing they’re out there,” Henley said. “They tend to mess up the bathrooms and leave trash out there. Then when the reserving groups step in, they’re stepping into a situation where they’re using fields that are absolutely overused and unplayable.”
As a result, the city decided to use $190,000 from its special parks budget to build the fence and rent out the fields full time to leagues to protect the fields and cut down on maintenance costs.
Under the new plan, the city will charge adults about $8 per hour to rent a field during daylight hours, and $27 per hour at night; for youths, the cost decreases to $5 per hour during the day, and $24 per hour at night.
Henley said the rental money would go back into the park, per the city’s agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, which sold the land to the city. Last year, the city received about $3,000 from league rental fees, a number Henley expects to grow now that the park is up for rental full time.
North Las Vegas isn’t the first to have rent-only fields. Henderson does it at Arroyo Grande Sports Complex and Heritage Park, while Las Vegas rents out 10 soccer fields at Bettye Wilson Soccer Complex and seven at Kellogg Zaher Sports Complex.
But those cities also have several other parks with fields that residents can use for free, while North Las Vegas is struggling to keep up with the demand for athletic fields and facilities. Lee admitted that the city needed more soccer fields and said he would look to return the Tropical Breeze Park fields to the public after Craig Ranch Park’s fields are operational.
“I just need to build more soccer fields. I need to have more access for people who play these sports to have places to go.” Lee said. “It’s such a booming sport … it’s incumbent upon the city to recognize that need and fulfill it.”
Still, some park-goers share McCollum’s frustration with the fence. Brian and Patty Knauls go to the park about once a week to let their four kids play in the water feature. Brian Knauls said they rarely used the fields, but he felt they should be left open to the public because it’s a public park.
North Las Vegas resident Alan Simril takes his three children to the park about once every two months and lives close enough to bike to it. He said he understood the city’s financial situation, but the fence leaves only a section of grass barely large enough to play catch.
“I understand that the city needs money. That’s fine, I’m willing to work with you,” Simril said. “But don’t take stuff from us.”
For now, however, the park's soccer fields will remain public in name only.