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November 28, 2012

Richland County committee picks management for new northeast park

If selected by the full county council Dec. 4, county officials would begin negotiations with Columbia United on its lease, maintenance of the property and promotions of the regional tournament park.

parks committe is recommending that Richland County choose a local soccer organization to operate, promote and maintain its new northeast tournament park.

Columbia United, the largest youth-soccer club in the state, with more than 4,600 participants, was one of two groups interviewed Tuesday in a second round of evaluations.

Three of four committee members – Joyce Dickerson, Val Hutchinson and Gwendolyn Davis Kennedy – voted for Columbia United. Kelvin Washington abstained.

If selected by the full county council Dec. 4, county officials would begin negotiations with the organization on its lease, maintenance of the property and promotions of the regional tournament park.

“We live, breathe and dream soccer, and we do it extremely well,” said Ron Tryon, president of Columbia United, a non-profit organization with a paid professional soccer staff, administrators and volunteers. It has two facilities here, one in Ballentine and the other off Sparkleberry Road in the northeast.

With Tuesday’s committee action, the county appears to be moving toward construction of the long-discussed, $22 million park at Hard Scrabble and Farrow roads. Some members insisted on a manager being in place to consult with contractors before the final design of the 18-field park, designed to attract tourists and being built with proceeds from the restaurant tax.

A majority of council members attended the committee meeting, as did councilman-elect Torrey Rush.

The other group making a pitch was Global Spectrum, which runs the Colonial Life Arena and 113 other venues around the world. The facilities management company would bring corporate resources to the project in maintenance, financial reporting, marketing and event booking, said Lexie Boone, the arena’s general manager.

Tryon and his board of directors – including Steve Birnie, Sheriff Leon Lott’s chief deputy – were greeted warmly. “They brought a ringer,” Councilman Greg Pearce joked as Birnie shook hands around the table.

Tryon pulled out T-shirts and soccer balls stamped with Richland County’s logo, souvenirs received by participants in its annual St. Patrick’s Day Cup and Carolina Cup, which Tryon said attracts 226 teams for tournaments each fall.

He said Columbia United can’t bring in as many competitors as it would like because there aren’t enough places for them to play.

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