Drive down North 29th Street just north of Nolana any evening, and you will see throngs of soccer players running up and down the fields. Travel south to LaVista and turn east. As you pass the tennis courts at McAllen High School, bright yellow balls soar back and forth across the nets. Go a block south to Tamarack, and the street will be lined with cars belonging to softball players and their fans who will watch the games at Municipal Park. Athletic fields and courts are at a premium in McAllen, and city officials hear the cries from citizens who say we need more. Their solution will be decided by voters May 8 when ballots are counted for two city propositions. First, voters need to know the facts.

Proposition 1 is a $35 million bond issue. According to the city’s web site (www.mcallen.net), with the approval of voters, the sale of the bonds would allow the city to build or enhance four athletic facilities:

A Youth Sports Complex at Ware and Vine adjacent to Rowe High School.

• 16 youth baseball/soccer fields.

• Lighting and parking.

• An historical orchard that would serve as a buffer to adjacent neighborhoods

DeLeon Soccer Expansion (north of DeLeon Middle School)

• 10 new adult fields on city-owned property.

• Lighting and parking.

Tennis Center Gardens

• 36 tennis courts built among the trees at McAllen’s Botanical Gardens

• A clubhouse.

• Parking.

• Center court (also known as a master grand court).

• Trail system between courts and through the gardens.

Adult Softball Complex (at Municipal Park)

• Old fields demolished.

• 6 new adult softball fields.

• Relocation of skate park, pavilion and other amenities.

Should the bond pass, the city is expecting to complete the projects according to the following schedule:

• Sell the bonds as quickly as possible.

• Construction of DeLeon Soccer Expansion will begin in the spring of 2011.

• Construction of the Tennis Center Gardens and Youth Sports Complex will begin in late 2011 or early 2012.

• Upon completion of the Youth Sports Complex, work will begin on the Adult Softball Complex.

Passage of Proposition 1 would result in a tax increase of approximately $35 for a $100,000 home. The city currently has a tax freeze for citizens 65 years old and older.

Proposition 2 allows the city to place Westside Park, located on Ware Road across the street from the McAllen Convention Center, up for sale. The park would remain operational until the Youth Sports Complex is acquired and built and the renovations at Municipal Park are completed.

Two McAllen non-profit organizations, McAllen Facility Amateur Sports Task Force (MFast) and Rio Grande Valley Tennis and Education Park, were founded to support their mission of expanding sports facilities in McAllen for citizens of all ages. McAllen Parks and Recreation has not constructed athletic facilities since 2005 when the city’s population was roughly 106,000. Today, that number is closer to 140,000, and the demand for sports venues exceeds their availability.

McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez said McAllen residents regularly approach city leaders about the need for more athletic facilities for their children

“Families in McAllen with young children, both boys and girls, approach the city about our aging athletic facilities,” Mayor Cortez said. “They tell us their children are playing sports until 10 p.m. on school nights due to the limited number of fields. We are growing, and our citizens want these facilities.”

Some questions about the destruction of trees have arisen, especially regarding the tennis complex at the Botanical Gardens. It is a topic the mayor and city commission have not taken lightly.

Mark Kroeze is the City of McAllen Urban Forester, a position within the Public Works Department. According to Kroeze, one becomes an urban forester “through hands-on experience managing trees and their use in urban areas and through a combination of university courses in math, science government, history and communications.”

When the idea of building a tennis center at the Botanical Gardens began to take shape, city leaders directed Kroeze to record, via Global Positioning System (GPS), the location, species and size of all large trees on the property.

Virgil Christian, United States Tennis Association (USTA) Community Tennis Development Director, and David LaSota, the lead engineer for a company that works with the USTA on designing tennis centers, came to McAllen to visit the site.

“They walked the grounds,” said Sally Gavlik, McAllen’s director of Parks and Recreation since December 1. “The goal was to preserve as many trees as possible, and the mayor and city commission wanted the design concept to embrace the original intention of the Botanical Gardens. The USTA is excited about this complex. It will be the first Tennis Center Gardens they know of in the U.S.”

The master plan indicates that eight trees will be taken out for the tennis complex. If possible, those trees will be re-planted within the Botanical Gardens or in other city parks. It will depend on the condition of the trees, once removed.

“If any tree taken down for the tennis complex cannot be re-planted, my organization will replace it with a tree that will be planted wherever the city decides,” said Angelica LaGrange, founder of RGV Tennis and Education Park.

“USTA is giving my non-profit a grant,” LaGrange said. “It will pay for the engineers and the design of the Tennis Center Gardens. We will have 16 hard courts, four covered courts, and six clay courts. It will be the only center south of San Antonio with clay courts.”

If the bond issue passes and the Tennis Center Gardens becomes a reality, there will also be QuickStart tennis courts, shorter courts for younger players, one size designed for players 6-8 years old and another a bit larger for players 9-10 years old.

Walking trails will run between courts and open gardens between center court and the clay courts will provide a beautiful natural site for educational programs, much like those held at Quinta Mazatlan, LaGrange said. The center is expected to be quite a draw.

“The USTA thinks we will have one of the top three tennis facilities in the nation. We expect to have major tournaments with professional players,” LaGrange said. She also expects to see children from the Rio Grande Valley earn scholarships to play tennis at Division 1 schools.

As for the sale of Westside Park, Kroeze said that while he cannot speak on behalf of a developer regarding the use of the land, “the city would be more than willing to work with the developer to preserve trees and to re-locate trees in order to save them.”

If the bond issue passes, the mayor and city commission will authorize the sale of Westside Park according to Texas law, said the city’s Assistant City Manager Brent Branham. “Federal and state grants were used to purchase and improve Westside Park in the early 1980s. Any proceeds from the sale must first satisfy any of these grant requirements. After this is done, the city commission would determine how and for what purpose the remaining proceeds would be spent.”

To those who question how the sale of Westside Park and building a tennis complex within the Botanical Gardens fits with the city’s “Going Green” campaign, both Gavlik and Kroeze have an answer.

“Going green is more than trees. It’s about the whole environment,” Gavlik said. “Going green is about how you build facilities, how you recycle, and how you landscape and irrigate. We can incorporate green technology and build athletic facilities at the same time.”

Kroeze agrees:

“Going green can mean many different things, like recycling, riding your bike to work, or reducing your use of plastic bags…The killing of healthy trees would be contrary to going green. Our goal is to educate the general public, including developers, of the important roles trees play in our lives, from storm water mitigation to energy efficiency (cooling), air quality and beautification. Through education, we emphasize that there is a fine balance between development and the preservation of our natural environment that sustains a high quality of life citizens of McAllen have come to expect.”

To view plans for the projects, click the links below: