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New soccer park is a big score in the eyes of Overland Park

08/23/2009
Kansas City Star - Brad Cooper
One of the largest dedicated synthetic turf soccer complexes in the world, OP features 1.2 million square feet of synthetic turf
One of the largest dedicated synthetic turf soccer complexes in the world, OP features 1.2 million square feet of synthetic turf

The plush green fields beckon Alex Mendez Jr.

The synthetic turf. The lights. The electronic scoreboards. The concession stands. The fieldhouse.

It is a distinctively different ambience from the rocky, rutty and sometimes uneven grassy fields where 12-year-old Alex plays out his youth soccer dreams.

Alex hardly can hide his zeal about kicking around a ball on the fields at Overland Park’s new $36 million soccer park, which opens Saturday for a public preview.

“I want to try to them out — big time. They look nice,” the Kansas City, Kan., boy said after practice last week at a Lenexa park.

“It would be nice to play under the lights like a professional. That’s everybody’s dream, right?”

Born out of Johnson County’s failed attempt in 2006 to raise property taxes for two dozen fields next to a proposed stadium for the Kansas City Wizards professional soccer team, Overland Park’s new soccer park is the buzz this summer for coaches, kids and parents.

The city’s tourism industry is salivating, too. Weekend tournaments are expected to draw players and their families from all over the Midwest and beyond, which will fill hotel rooms and restaurants. The economic bonanza is expected to be well into the millions of dollars.

The park, financed by Overland Park’s hotel tax, already has made a splash nationally. Last week, U.S. News & World Report cited the soccer park when it ranked Overland Park as one of its 10 best places to grow up.

“I think everybody realizes it’s here, it’s ready to go and can’t wait to get out there,” said Wizards interim head coach Peter Vermes, who also is technical director for the Blue Valley Soccer Club.

Many people on the local soccer circuit already know about the new park and rave about its importance to one of the country’s hottest soccer markets.

“If it’s not the best, it’s one of the best soccer complexes in the country,” said Rick Enna, the varsity soccer coach at St. James Academy in Lenexa. “There are some good facilities, but there’s nothing like this one.”

Nestled next to the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead off 135th Street, the complex features 12 lighted synthetic-turf fields, a fieldhouse and three concession stands.

Visitors will be greeted by a fountain that features a floating soccer ball made of marble and granite that weighs 12,230 pounds with its base and costs $150,000.

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