As soccer’s popularity grows and another season awaits, Santa Fe officials might soon level the playing field for youth soccer teams.
City ordinances currently prioritize adult use at the west-side Municipal Recreation Complex, but District 4 Councilor Jamie Cassutt is pushing for a policy change that would allow youth teams the same chance of reserving playing time.
Jonathan Weiss, the city’s golf course and MRC manager, tells SFR the change would create flexibility in order for the city to meet community needs “in a more dynamic way.”
“Some years, the adult leagues grow and really are asking for lots of fields and in other years, we see youth leagues really bursting at the seams, and we want to be flexible,” Weiss says.
This year, there is a definite uptick in usage at the MRC—more specifically the “huge growth” at the Soccer Valley fields. According to Weiss, two of the five fields were used four days a week last year during the spring and the fall. But in this year’s seasons, all five fields at the MRC were fully used Monday through Sunday.
Northern Soccer Club of Santa Fe Executive Director Scott Hussion tells SFR a big part of his job is finding fields for kids, something he describes as “extremely difficult.”
“All the kids and all the sports are fighting over the same fields, and it’s horrible,” Hussion says. “Our numbers for soccer are exploding. It’s the biggest sport in the world for a reason…There are kids gone soccer crazy in this town, and there is no place for them to go play.”
Hussion says the club went from 1,116 to 1,698 registrations from 2022 to 2023—a 52% increase. From March to May and from August to October, the months dedicated to soccer seasons, the kids are on the fields every day of the week but Sunday, he says.
Even before rising program numbers, Hussion says finding field space remained an issue. The organization lost its home of eight years, the infield at The Downs, after the city’s effluent water system went down last spring.
“We had to scramble, and we put fields at SWAN Park, and we crammed in fields at the MRC. And we’ve been scrambling ever since to find fields for kids. You know, the usage is extremely high,” Hussion says. “We always find a place for kids. The biggest concern is…we do tend to put more kids than we would like on the fields. Soccer is about a game of space and you want to make sure you have enough space to run around and move, and it’s been very challenging to supply the kids with what they deserve.”
The proposed ordinance revision would also tie into a bigger plan adopted in 2015 for “Soccer Valley” at the MRC, where backers hope to secure future legislative appropriations and accept private money to add four new artificial turf fields and a dome on the proposed championship field for year-round play.
Parks and Open Space Division Director Melissa McDonald tells SFR soccer has been “consistently growing” in popularity since the ‘90s when there was a “huge push” for the original Soccer Valley fields. Now, even more inflated numbers spurred the city into entering phase two of the master plan, she says.
The City Council voted Nov. 8 on its legislative priorities for the 2024 lawmaking session. The resolution lays out the top five citywide requests for capital dollars in the based on the city’s approved Capital Infrastructure Improvement Plan including: housing to support veterans, youth and those experiencing chonic homelessness; expansion of Soccer Valley at the MRC; repairs to the wastewater treatment plant; a new fire station; and the extension of Richards Avenue across the Arroyo de los Chamisos.
Specifically, the city plans to ask the Legislature for $12 million for the soccer expansion project from any statewide funding pools associated with recreation and outdoor programs. Cassutt’s policy change will help ensure the state money comes through, she says.
“Some of the feedback that I got from members of our delegation was that if they were going to be putting money into recreation in Santa Fe, they wanted to make sure that youth would have access to it, and they weren’t as excited about funding the expansion of Soccer Valley if it wasn’t going to be accessible to youth as well as adults,” Cassutt says.
However, whether the city will be eligible to receive state funding remains uncertain as it continues to catch up on late audits. At the same governing body meeting, Finance Director Emily Oster said the late Fiscal Year 2022 audit should be completed by Dec. 4, but it is not clear whether the city will meet its Dec. 15 deadline for FY23. Cassutt says the city is getting back on track.
“At this point where I see we’re moving with the audit, I am hopeful that we should be able to receive these dollars on time,” she says.
On Nov. 13, the city announced plans to spend $1.5 million from gross receipts tax revenue for soccer facilities. While $1 million is earmarked for the Salvador Perez Park field, the Public Works Department will use $500,000 to begin phase two design plans for the MRC expansion project.
Cassutt’s proposal also calls for a field use management plan that requires regular review—at least once a year. City Manager John Blair would designate somebody to take the lead on its creation and how to allocate field use.
A public hearing on the ordinance and a potential vote is on the City Council agenda for Nov. 29.