By Shereen Siewert

A local soccer club is proposing a $3.25 million sports field development at Wausau’s Airport Park, a project that is expected to generate significant economic impact for the region.

MC United is proposing the development, which would be funded largely through private and community foundations. The nonprofit soccer club is proposing artificial turf-covered, lighted, and multi-use sports fields based on discussion and stakeholder input that identified Airport Park as the preferred site for the development, city documents state.

The initial discussion was prompted in part by concerns about “emergency resting” of Eastbay Sports Complex due to overuse, which was exacerbated by adverse weather conditions, according to the group’s proposal. Currently, ESC, a former landfill, serves as Marathon County’s primary soccer destination as well as host site to many other sports and community events. But access to the ESC fields is limited to the grass growing season, from about early May to mid-October, creating challenges for clubs’ participation in league play. Typically, leagues start and end before and after ESC is accessible.

In order to protect ESC’s natural turf fields from damage, practices and league games scheduled at Eastbay are subject to short-term cancellation when rainfall exceeds one inch or when fields are water-logged from previous rainfall events. In 2019, rain-closures at Eastbay required 20 soccer league games to be rescheduled, prompting the Central Wisconsin Soccer League’s request for local clubs to alternative field options for games. Also, in 2019, deteriorating field conditions and associated risks to ESC’s economic impact necessitated “emergency resting” from Aug. 1 to Oct. 15, which MC United says is a prime season soccer groups.

Airport Park, located less than a mile from ESC, currently features one large soccer field, a baseball diamond, additional open areas, and limited parking space. There are currently no floodlights or bathroom facilities at the park.

MC United considered several other options, including the former Wausau Chemical site, before settling on the Airport Park recommendation.

ESC attracted more than 150,000 visitors and generated more than $6 million in economic impact in 2017, which included MC United’s two annual youth soccer tournaments. Those tournaments, which are at capacity, generate an estimated $2.8 million in local spending each year.

Funding for the proposed project includes $2,550,000 from private foundations, $280,000 from community foundations and donor advised funds, $220,000 from the corporate sector, $165,000 from user groups and private donors, and $35,000 from the city of Wausau Parks Department, according to city documents.

Wausau’s soccer community comprises an estimated 1,800 athletes, the largest portion of which are Wausau and Everest Youth Soccer players.

The city’s parks and recreation committee will discuss the proposal this week. The meeting is slated for 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4 at City Hal, 407 Grant St., Wausau.

Proposed multi-use sports field development concept for Airport Park in Wausau. Source: City of Wausau documents