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Odessa — known for oil and football — hopes a new multisport complex will draw tourists, renew pride

By Carlos Nogueras Ramos, The Texas Tribune

Odessa — known for oil and football — hopes a new multisport complex will draw tourists, renew pride” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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ODESSA — As he toured a trendy sports facility earlier this year in Gainesville, Florida, Odessa City Council Member Mark Matta wondered why his hometown didn’t have its own.

Sure, Ratliff Stadium, home of the storied Permian Panthers, can hold nearly 20,000 for a Friday night high school football game. But the blue-collar town doesn’t have a flashy complex with modern equipment and fields for sports of all kinds. In other words, the kind of sought-out facility found in bigger cities and suburbs, Matta said.

Upon his return from Florida, Matta rallied his fellow city council members to secure land, millions in donations and private-sector partnerships. And now, the maturing West Texas town is on track to build its first major sports complex.

Supporters of the project hope that upon completion, the facility will make Odessa an upscale athletic destination, luring more than 150,000 visitors and generating $40 million in tourism dollars annually.

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Perhaps equally important, Matta and others behind the project say, is the hope that Odessa residents will see the sports complex as a symbolic shift in the town’s willingness to invest in itself.

The Permian Basin is known for drawing transient workers to its oil fields. For years, the city adapted to the hoards of drillers, welders and engineers who flocked in and out as work became available. And its leaders have long been wary of any sort of major capital project like a sports complex. The city council hopes that by investing heavily in what Odessa can offer as a city, it will become a place where workers want to live — boom or bust.

Matta, who represents Odessa’s downtown area, said the sports complex is an investment that builds on Odessa’s legacy.

“The community has always been about oil and football. We’re known for high school football,” he said. “A sports complex is a no-brainer.”

It is also an enormous undertaking for the town. Stretching across 140,000 square feet and priced at roughly $70 million, the sports center’s most recent design includes 30 pickleball courts, 20 volleyball courts, 10 hardwood courts, a portable 200-meter banked competition track, fitness centers, conference rooms, offices, a concession area, a cafe and a retailer. An exterior area of the center includes 12 fields for soccer, football and lacrosse, and up to eight softball and baseball fields. There also is room for athletic training and physical therapy.

Within the 40,000 square miles comprising West Texas, there is no comparable sports complex in size or scale, said Jason Boudrie, owner of Synergy Sports Global, a firm that works with municipalities and colleges on developing sporting facilities across the country. Once the facility opens its doors to the public, it will become the largest sporting complex in the region. The new infrastructure will be transformative for the city and become a model for the future of competitive sporting centers in places like Odessa, Boudrie said.

“It’s in line with what true multisports complexes need to look like in order to be competitive and really make the most impact,” Boudrie said, emphasizing that the dearth of athletic opportunity in places like Odessa will make the center more attractive to bigger cities.

“They will very easily be able to draw tournaments and athletes from major cities like Dallas and even further east,” he said. “They have the single greatest collection of assets under one roof.”

Synergy Sports agreed to inject the capital required to see the construction through. It plans to lease the space to a nonprofit foundation established by the city council, which also appointed the foundation’s board of directors. The foundation will accept donations while co-managing the sports complex alongside RADDSports, a development company that helps cities run large-scale sporting facilities. RADDSports has helped fund the project.

Odessa’s business community realizes the potential the complex will have and is supporting the venture, said Steven Thompson, a city council member who helped spearhead the project.

“All of these major oil companies and local businesses trying to grow keep saying they can hire the best people in the world, but when they leave, it’s because there’s not enough quality of life,” said Thompson, who represents the city’s easternmost neighborhoods.

The city has raised $5 million in donations from investors, including $1 million from Occidental Petroleum, an energy company headquartered in Houston. The city council agreed to front up to $2 million from the city’s coffers to fund the initial construction stage, in part to demonstrate its commitment to potential donors.

A project of this magnitude, Matta said, is a testament to the potential Odessa harbors.

“When I was a kid, I never thought we’d have something like this. It’s great to come full circle and be one of the leaders involved in bringing this here,” he said. “It makes me feel like that circle’s complete.”

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