Additional uses considered for proposed Freese Center

Rhonda Bletner | Galion Inquirer

GALION – Galion’s Economic Development Committee continued discussion Tuesday on the proposed Freese Center. The Freese Center is currently described as a facility for local and regional sports, “as well as other events.” That description may be part of the planning that will move the project forward.

Tuesday’s meeting included consideration of multiple uses for the complex.

Galion’s Economic Development committee members at the meeting include Chair and 2nd Ward Council member Aaron Ivy, Dr. Thomas Fellner and 3rd Ward Council member Mike Richart. Also attending Tuesday’s meeting were Mayor Tom O’Leary and Law Director Thomas Palmer.

Galion-Crestline Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Miranda Jones was invited to attend the meeting for additional perspective. The chamber held webinar discussions in February 2021 to help educate and gather input from the community.

“I feel I, as the chamber director, have a pretty good understanding of who in the community is full-speed ahead, and who in the community still has questions; and then there are some dissenting voices,” Jones said.

“While the facility itself, the actual structure as planned, would be a great addition to Galion and the Crawford County Community as a whole, the business plan or the lack thereof is rather complicated,” she continued.

As a representative of business and community members, Jones added, “While travel sports will likely generate revenue for the facility, community needs are not being met by what’s been presented. The need for a facility is there. I just think the model needs to be adjusted and rebranded.”

She suggested the community would benefit more from a facility that could also host, in addition to sporting events, other large events like job fairs, chamber events or additional YMCA classes. She also observed the benefit of ample parking and amenities that would facilitate large community events.

Her suggestion did not propose a redesign of the facility but rather a rebranding—a description that would expand upon its potential uses.

Ivy questioned whether community needs could be built around a full sports schedule.

“I think the basic model that was proposed was projecting about 36 weekends…Do you think it would be adequate to assume the other 17 weekends of the year would be adequate enough to fulfill the wishes of these other events?”

“We’re looking at a sports recreation center trying to incorporate other events to try to offset the cost, instead of an event center that is going to incorporate recreation. Do you think that’s reasonable,” he asked.

Jones response was uncertain but further emphasized community needs at large.

Dr. Fellner said travel sports was the driving force behind the project but he also agreed a community event center was a legitimate need.

“Attracting those kinds of needs [as suggested by Jones] need to be incorporated,” he said, “or at least verbalized.”

“When the first study, the first group came together, it was to address a need for an existing lack of recreation space. There isn’t enough,” said Mayor O’Leary. He said he wanted to amplify that need.

In its early planning, the mayor said, the desire was to address recreational space. He added a daycare may be an additional use.

“With the addition of the vision of travel sports came an upscaling of the size of the facility,” he said. “My take-away from it is they’re sifting the options.”

He also noted he didn’t think there was a financial plan in place. The current estimated cost of the project is $10 million. He said an attempt should be made to reduce the cost.

The project’s website specifies the complex would not be funded with tax dollars.

Current funding, according to the city’s website states a key source is the Egbert M. Freese Foundation, a private entity that gives an annual endowment to the City of Galion for parks and recreation projects. And the Crawford Partnership was awarded a $50,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture for design and engineering. The State Capital Bill earmarked $500,000 for construction. Additional funds from private donors are also being sought.

The Freese Center is designated for land near the US 30 and St. Rt. 598 interchange. The plans currently include three basketball courts that can be converted to volleyball courts, a turf field, and a kitchen and café area, as well as a second-floor mezzanine.

Planning for the sports complex began in 2015. Galion’s Economic Development Committee, in conjunction with the Crawford Partnership for Education and Economic Development and the mayor’s office, developed the plan.

Rhonda Bletner | Galion Inquirer