The rapidly growing Soccer Association of Columbia will be looking for land outside Columbia for its proposed soccer complex after negotiations with Howard Community College reached an impasse.
The stalemate in the negotiations over erecting a proposed seven-field, $1 million complex in Columbia -- a hotbed of soccer -- is "quite a blow," said Jim Carlan, SAC president.
With 4,300 players ages 5 to 19 -- and more than 5,000 players projected for next year -- the 26-year-old organization is running out of sites for its matches and likely will have to launch a major fund-raising effort to buy land, he said.
The shortage of soccer fields is being made worse because HCC is charging SAC rent for use of three fields on the college campus in west Columbia's Hickory Ridge village -- a fee increase that, SAC officials say, will force them to shift matches elsewhere.
"With soccer being the game in town, it's sad to see that we don't have enough fields for our kids to play," said Tony Hall, a SAC coach.
HCC officials say negotiations could resume over the proposed SAC complex on the campus. But for now the talks are stalled over the length of SAC's proposed lease.
In its final proposal in December, SAC requested a 15- to 20-year lease, but HCC was only willing to agree to an 8- to 10-year lease for all the fields -- with a bit longer leases possible for some.
"The college must maintain the flexibility to use its resources to best meet the educational needs of the community as they arise," HCC President Dr. Dwight Burrill said in a press release.
Randy Bengfort, an HCC spokesman, said that while there are no other plans for the HCC land, a longer lease with SAC could hamper the college's summer academic and sports programs.
But SAC's Mr. Carlan said the group needs a 15-year lease to offset its proposed $1 million investment in the soccer complex.
If an agreement had been reached, construction of the complex would have begun this fall, and the complex would have opened two years later.
"We thought we had something good going and all of a sudden it seems to be falling through," said the father of four SAC players, Patrick M. Murphy of Columbia's Oakland Mills village. "We feel it's a shame we can't get a good field or a series of fields."
Mr. Carlan said SAC needs at least 30 acres for its complex, land that he doesn't think he can find elsewhere in Columbia. He ruled out using any part of a large tract near the Harper's Choice Village Center in Columbia that recently was returned by the county schools to the Columbia Association; CA wants to build a sports center there.
For years, SAC has voluntarily paid to cover the cost of seeding and other maintenance at the three HCC soccer fields, Mr. Carlan said, but the college now wants to charge rent of $17.50 per hour for each field. Mr. Bengfort, HCC's spokesman, said it has been the college's intention all along that SAC pay rent as other groups do.
To avoid the rental fee, SAC matches will shift to fields owned by the county schools or parks department, Mr. Carlan said. The shifting may create scheduling problems in the spring when athletes who play other sports need to use those fields, too.
All this is forcing SAC to look to other parts of Howard for land of its own.
"With growth, obviously the pressure is on to have our own complex," Mr. Carlan said. "It's the sport that kind of grew with Columbia. It's probably the biggest hotbed of soccer in the state."