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Canal Winchester is one of five communities in the running to host a new $30 million Columbus Crew team soccer complex.

The center would feature a full-size indoor soccer training facility and 16 outdoor recreational fields. Construction of a sports medicine and physiotherapy clinic and retail development are also under consideration. Crew officials held a meeting with more than a dozen central Ohio communities in April to discuss plans for development of the complex.

"Our goal is to partner with a local community to create an environment that meets the Crew’s training needs and enhances and increases much-needed soccer infrastructure, while also drawing thousands of participants and spectators to tournaments, camps, and recreational events," Crew General Manager Mark McCullers remarked in an April 5 release.

Chris Strayer, Canal Winchester’s development director, said Canal Winchester sent a response to the Crew’s "Request for Proposals" conceptually outlining the possibility of locating the new training facility in a vicinity west of the village between Gender and Bixby roads. Strayer noted the proposal did not pinpoint a specific site, but if the village was selected, could involve neighboring municipalities in a cooperative agreement.

"The proposal, in theory, was over what we could do in the next several years," stated Stayer. "What we turned in was a concept. It was pretty much a non-binding agreement. The Crew gave us no timeline for the project, but their agreement with Obetz is up at the end of 2009. This would be an anchor point for the community."

The Crew’s Obetz facility consists of two professional practice fields and a training center with locker rooms and offices on an 80-acre municipal parcel shared with village offices and recreational fields. It opened in 1997. Obetz picked up the construction costs for the fields and the Pizzuti Company, whose Pizzuti Solutions is managing the selection process for the new site, paid for the training and office building.

Once the Crew’s new training center is operational, the Obetz facility would become part of the village’s park system. Obetz could lose $35,000 to $40,000 in income tax and lease revenue, but has already recouped its initial 1997 investment in the 10 years since the Crew began practicing in the village. The team’s lease is up in 2009.

"The Crew came here and they’ve been wonderful partners," said Douglas Browell, Obetz’s village administrator, "but they’ve outgrown their facility, which was the first Major League Soccer dedicated training facility in the league when it was built in 1997. In the time since it opened, the village has further built out our own park within the confines of the 80 acres. The space has filled up, for all intents and purposes.

"They’ve (Crew) done their best in terms of growth with the facility they now have, but what they’re looking to obtain is in excess of 80 acres to accommodate a number of outdoor fields. It’s been a pleasurable experience having the Crew here and they still have a home here if they need it past 2009."

Canal Winchester, along with Columbus, London, Newark, and Delaware County submitted proposals in response to the team’s request. According to the Columbus Crew, the community selected to host the facility would construct the soccer complex with the Crew acting as a long-term tenant providing managerial and maintenance services.

"This is an exciting opportunity for a community to partner with a professional sports franchise and create a unique regional destination," said Jim Russell, senior vice president for Pizzuti Solutions. "In addition to evaluating the proposals submitted by each community, we are also seeking input from businesses interested in being part of the project."

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