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NAPLES — The Henderson County Soccer Association is building a 22-acre soccer park at the old Jake's Driving Range property, which is closing on Feb. 1 after 43 years as a family-run business.
The association, which has been trying for years to find a home for fields to serve some 1,500 young soccer players and their families, plans to build the park without taxpayer support, said Dr. John Strickland, a Hendersonville dentist who is president of the association. It's received a startup boost with a $50,000 pledge from Park Ridge Health.
"Everything with the park is going to be done with private or corporate donations," he said. "We're trying to get field sponsors. We want to try to do it on our own and help the soccer community without any bite being taken out of the city or county budget."
The driving range became another victim of the bad economy and a drop in golf's popularity.
"After 43 years business has just kind of died off so I leased it to the Henderson County Soccer Association," said owner Mike Justice, who took over the driving range from his father, Jake. "There's too many golf driving ranges around now."
Jake Justice ran the course for about 20 years and his son has run it for the last two decades, catering to a loyal but declining number of golfers honing their swings.
"Everybody loved it," Justice said. "I guess the older ones have gone and there's not that many of the young ones coming along now."
Park Ridge becomes partner
Park Ridge Health has signed on as primary sponsor for the soccer park.
"Park Ridge Health is proud to partner with the Henderson County Soccer Association to provide families in our area with new opportunities for wellness and recreation," Graham Fields, assistant to the hospital president Jimm Bunch, said in a statement. "In addition to a soccer complex, this project will include numerous other amenities from walking trails to a children's playground. As the naming sponsor for this new park, Park Ridge Health continues its commitment to a building a healthier community."
Park Ridge had agreed in September 2011 to donate $100,000 to sponsor a soccer complex in Flat Rock before the county Board of Commissioners dropped the plans.
The soccer association attracts 1,200 to 1,500 kids a year, Strickland said, in programs that range from 5-year-old rec league beginners to academy teams to travel teams up to age 18. The soccer association has been frustrated in its efforts to establish a soccer park for several years. Plans for soccer fields on property donated by Arvin-Meritor in Fletcher have never come to fruition, and the county's plans for a soccer complex on the Highland Lake Golf Course property blew up after neighbors strongly opposed the plans.
The soccer association needs to do some work on the fields. It has plans to improve drainage because most of the property is in the floodplain.
"If you've ever noticed, it actually drains fairly quickly and there's no drainage there now," Strickland said. "We have to apply for a special use permit because it's not been approved for that use. We want to do everything by the book."
As it raises money through partnerships, field sponsorships and fundraising events, the association will move ahead with the planned walking trail, playground and picnic area. "It is our intention for the facility to be a hub of community outings and a place for our entire soccer community to flourish," Strickland said. "Our hope is that this park, along with our new working relationships with Brevard College, GoldenGol Soccer Club and local high school and middle school coaches, will begin to unite the various groups in the area that are looking for a soccer home."
Strickland said the driving range property has plenty of room for parking on the grass, with gravel lots a possibility later on. Longer range, the soccer association has plans to add a playground and walking trail to the property.
"We hope to be able to play by mid summer and our plan is to make the improvements in stages," he said.
He's been encouraged by the support.
"The response has been fantastic," he said. "We've got people coming from all areas of the corporate world, medical world and dental world to offer their financial support and it seems like an overwhelming affirmation that this is something the community wants and needs."