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The facilities proposed to be built in SW West Linn have already generated significant community interest

COURTESY PHOTO: WUFC - WUFC executive director Ray Nelson hopes for the park to open in 2021. The vision for Willamette United Football Club's (WUFC) Southlake Park facilities goes far beyond local youth soccer. Not only does it include other youth sports, WUFC Executive Director Ray Nelson wants it to be a place where young athletes learn life lessons that they carry with them long after their playing days are over.

But before Nelson's vision becomes a reality, he needs a conditional use permit from Clackamas County, which he hopes will be granted later this fall.

WUFC leaders realized the club was out-growing its home fields at Athey Creek Middle School 10 years ago, and started the long process of finding land in the West Linn-Wilsonville area that could be turned into a new facility for young athletes.

Nelson said WUFC's relationship with the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, which leases the Athey Creek fields to the club, has been great. The only problem was the lease couldn't be extended long past 2020 because of the district's plans to accommodate its own growth by turning Athey Creek into a high school. When the lease ends next year, the WL-WV district could likely extend it by a year or two if necessary.

COURTESY PHOTO: WUFC - Plans for the facility include an indoor field house about half the size of a soccer field. 
Around three years ago, Nelson and other WUFC leaders were still looking for the right space when they found property owned by Southlake Church just down Borland Road from their offices above Wanker's Country Store.

"They (Southlake Church) happened to have 22 acres just sitting empty right now. They wanted to give back to the community," Nelson said. "They felt bad that that land was just sitting empty right now when there's a need and a possible use and they wanted to help."

Southlake Church and WUFC now have a 30-year lease agreement, Nelson said.

The club began the land-use permitting process about three years ago. After filing its conditional use permit application, the club had to get clarification from the county saying the Southlake land could be used for sports fields. Clackamas County eventually granted that sports fields could go on the property but WUFC still needs a final approval from the county to begin construction.

When permitting and construction are done, which Nelson hopes will be some time in 2021, Southlake Park will have three lit artificial turf soccer, football and lacrosse fields, an indoor training field house, offices for the club, a concession stand, a training room, a walking/ jogging path and a playground.

"The purpose of this project has always been thought to be one that reaches beyond soccer because it's certainly not just youth soccer organizations that are facing a shortage in terms of venues and facilities," said WUFC board member Erik Simshauser.

The club leaders said they've spoken with members of 14 other youth sports organizations in the area that have said they would use the new Southlake Park facilities. The plans for the park include netting for indoor batting practice at the field house for baseball and softball teams. West Linn-Wilsonville wrestling and judo teams have even expressed interest in using the field house because, like other sports, they currently lack facilities as well, Nelson said.

COURTESY PHOTO: WUFC  - Southlake Park will be on Borland Road near Southlake Church, the Tualatin River and I-205. WUFC recently sent out an online petition asking people if they supported the project, and within one day collected over 1,100 signatures, demonstrating the desire for more multi-use all-season fields in the community.

With lights and artificial turf on three full fields and an indoor half-field, Nelson said the club and other groups could get far more use out of Southlake Park than they do out of the Athey Creek Fields, which don't get much use in winter months when night falls fast and the grass is soggy.

Once WUFC has a green light from the county to build the facilities, Nelson said fundraising will kick into high gear. The project is expected to cost $14 million.

"We don't want to raise a dime specifically to build the park until we have a permit because we don't want to take people's donations for this great project and then have to give it back," Nelson said. "We've already got some meetings with some high net worth people who are really excited about it lined up."

The club has already raised $600,000 for the project, but that was just for the permitting process, according to Nelson.

"To this date we haven't used $1 of registration dollars of the kids' money to do this project. We hosted four auctions," he said. "We started a tournament called the Mt. Hood Challenge and all of those funds have gone to our fields project."

Though the club has developed a good relationship with the church, Nelson said he wanted to make it clear that WUFC is not a religiously-affiliated organization.

Simshauser added that the project is about more than soccer, or even sports. It's meant to benefit the whole community. Club leaders want to use the new facility to get their players involved in (and eventually organize) fundraisers and volunteer events, from food and toy drives to Special Olympics games.

"This is going to be a source of pride (for) the community," Nelson said.

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