Lilburn group to visit, probe sports park in Texas

A group from Lilburn is headed to Mansfield, Texas, on Friday to check out that city's Big League Dreams Sports Park and ask residents about its popularity, financing and economic benefits as they research building one of their own.

"We want to know: Is this good value for the money?" said Mayor Diana Preston, who is among the seven-member contingent who will spend two days in the city of 58,000 near Fort Worth. She'll be joined by other city officials and a Lilburn baseball mom.

On Monday, the Lilburn City Council voted to enter into a license fee agreement with Big League Dreams, a national operator of youth and adult sports facilities. The agreement, for which the city will put up $450,000 in refundable SPLOST funds, allows Lilburn to examine the California-based company's financial records as it conducts a feasibility study for a 40-acre baseball, softball and soccer complex that would host local and tournament play.

City officials believe the nearly $20 million park, possibly at U.S. 29 and Indian Trail Road, could make Lilburn a destination for visitors and be a catalyst for economic growth. Currently, the Gwinnett County city of 11,500 has no hotels, movie theaters or fine dining and struggles with an aging infrastructure and transient population.

But some Lilburn residents on Monday balked at the idea, saying the city is risking taxpayer money at the wrong time. Lilburn officials said it's not a done deal.

Like Lilburn, Mansfield looked to a Big League Dreams park as an economic engine, opening one in 2008. Since then, the city has gone from one hotel to seven, said Shelly Lanners, the city’s director of community services.

Heather Koffman, a mother of two boys who play baseball, lives close to the proposed site in Lilburn. She is headed to Mansfield with a list of questions. Among other things, Koffman wants to know how surrounding areas are insulated from lights and noise and whether revitalization is taking root near Mansfield's park.

"I've suggested that we do our own survey of local businesses ... not talk to people who are tapped to talk to us," Koffman said.

The mayor plans to do just that.

"We're going to ask the tough questions," Preston said. "We will talk to businesses to get a feel for what it was like before Big League Dreams came. I imagine we'll talk to residents in coffee shops. We'll ask: ‘How about your taxes?'"