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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.
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.