Ongoing tension between the county government and Cherokee Impact Soccer came to a head Tuesday as Cherokee County Commissioners discussed public access to Badger Creek Park.
Cherokee Recreation and Parks Advisory Board Chairman Chris Hampton told the commission during its work session on Tuesday that Cherokee Impact continues to lock the entrance gates at Badger Creek Park, a violation of its contract with the county commission to manage the soccer complex.
Hampton, who said he is "partial" to all recreational organizations in the county, said "this is the only association we have trouble with."
Cherokee Impact's contract with the county stipulates the organization, formerly known as Cherokee Soccer Association, will maintain and manage the facility.
However, as the park was funded mostly with public dollars, the contract also stipulates the park will be open to the public when fields are not in use by soccer teams. Not opening the gates, Hampton noted, is indeed a violation of their contract.
County Manager Jerry Cooper told commissioners that staff "will find a solution" and, in the meantime, will begin unlocking the gates in the morning and lock them in the evening. Staff will also begin weighing the possibility of installing an electronic gate at the entrance.
On Wednesday, Cherokee Impact President John Brandreth said this was the first time he's heard of this issue. Brandreth said the complex has been closed and will remain so for the next 60 days as crews perform scheduled maintenance on the fields.
“We’re doing everything what we are supposed to do to keep the facility right for the county," he said. "We are trying to be good stewards of the facility.”
Brandreth went on to say Hampton "doesn’t seem to like us very much.”
"From what I’ve understood, everyone is happy except Mr. Hampton," he added.
Hampton on Wednesday said the advisory board on Sept. 25 voted to enforce the contract on the locked gate issue after Cherokee Recreation and Parks Agency "made several attempts" to get the association to honor the contract.
He noted CRPA Director Bryan Reynolds sent an email to the association, "advising them to open and close the gate per the contract and advising them they could close the gate at 10 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. as the contract stated."
Hampton said that email was met with no response and a lunch scheduled on Oct. 11 between both parties was canceled by Cherokee Impact. On Oct. 15, another email was sent advising the association of the request, which Hampton said "was replied by (to) Mr. Branderth with his concerns and request not to open the gate to the public."
Hampton said on Oct. 25, he received a letter from his neighborhood that the association sent them letters saying they were being "required" to open and close the gate.
Hampton, who said he does "not understand" why Brandreth would say he is unaware of the issue, added Badger Creek must be open to the public.
"The BOC, county manager, advisory board and CRPA all respect the contract that is in place with CSA regarding organized field use, but it does not change that it is a public park, to be used by the public who built it," he stated.
Commissioner Karen Bosch, who on Tuesday expressed the most frustration at the situation, said on Wednesday it was "disingenuous" for the association to claim innocence, adding this situation has been an issue since the park opened earlier this year.
"My stance on the issue is that the park was paid for with county funds and the soccer association is maintaining it," she said. "However it should be open to the public. The fields that are being seeded can be closed, but the gate needs to be open per the contract that the soccer association signed."
Commissioner Harry Johnston, who said he had the "closest ties" to Cherokee Impact, added on Tuesday there has to be public access to the park.
Badger Creek Park sits on Blalock Road just south of Holly Springs and backs up to The Springs neighborhood.
It has 16 soccer fields that range in size for under-6 to under-19 teams, 800 parking spaces, two restroom buildings, a concession stand and field house, administrative building, storm drainage facilities and water and sewer infrastructure to serve the complex.
The $3 million complex was funded with a mixture of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes, the county's $90 million parks bond and funds from Cherokee Impact.