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Real excitement regarding a sports complex project in Madras will take off once the funding source is made public

Apparently there is someone who lives in the general Madras area who is wanting to donate up to $40 million to fund construction of an athletic complex in the community, to include gymnasiums, indoor and outdoor soccer facilities, various ancillary elements, and, yes, a 21,000-plus square foot ice skating rink.

A fantastic sports complex isn't what the Madras community needs, per se. It doesn't address our societal needs. But then we don't have someone wanting to spend $40 million to address homelessness, or establish higher-end jobs that would require its employees live in the Madras area. No, these particular benefactors want to build a sports complex with an ice skating rink.

So, at this early stage, who are we to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak?

Jim Weyermann, the MAC's executive director, has experience working with big-money operations and major sports leagues. He's comfortable walking and talking in these multi-million dollar circles. Judging by his background, it wouldn't be a surprise if he shepherded this thing through to reality.

Weyermann has only been heading up the MAC district since October. To already have a $40 million sports complex project teed up, one that would be completely funded with private money, is flat amazing.

But Mr. Weyermann, I'm sure, also understands that there are many in this small community who are thinking, "He's only been on the job for a handful of weeks and he already has a major sports complex in the works, with $40 million in private money to fund it all? WHAT?"

A healthy dose of skepticism is unavoidable. We're used to public entities taking their sweet time on projects, holding public input meetings (in which public input is taken then graciously ignored), waiting for grants, generally moving along achingly slowly.

It's understandable that the benefactors want to remain anonymous. But that's the element of the process that has many people holding back their unabashed enthusiasm for a more cautious, "believe it when I see it" attitude — that and the fact that there are many in the community that just aren't that excited over a sports complex.

To his credit, Weyermann isn't pushing this in the dark. He's talking about it freely in public and private meetings. He's been out-front with our reporter on the topic. He's making one heck of a splash there at the MAC.

It's just that question No. 1, who's funding this thing, cannot be answered yet.

By the end of January, the secrecy veil may be lifted. Weyermann mentioned at Monday's MAC Board of Directors meeting that the benefactors are ready to make an installment of $750,000 within a couple weeks. The funds will go to get started on design and construction documents, toward funding a study on the financial and economic feasibility, and to get a footing with a promotion-public relations campaign for the facility.

At that point, Weyermann told our reporter Monday, it is hoped that the identity of the benefactor will become public knowledge when that check is received. Once that occurs, and the public gains a sense of comfort regarding the financial aspects, the skepticism will greatly subside, and real enthusiasm for backers of a sports complex will erupt.

But it won't end all the questions. We'll still wonder: How much will it cost to maintain the facilities and is the benefactor covering those costs as well? When will that study on the operations be made public to show how the complex will be profitable and not a drag on the district's finances? How does it impact, if at all, the Bean Foundation's efforts to renovate the Westside Building into a multipurpose community center, which has long been cautiously moving forward.

Central Oregon is the fastest growing, percentagewise, area in the state, and there is a real competition between the smaller towns to attract those migrating into the region. Recreation options and a healthy lifestyle are important elements for many in choosing a community. An incredible sports complex, to go along with the nicest pool in the region, couldn't hurt our community's ability to compete for these people, from retirees to young families.

At this point, there's little reason to be anything but optimistic that this project will happen. Soon, we hope, when the funding source is known, cautious optimism will be overtaken by confident expectation.


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