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County funds to help bring sports events to Waco area

Posted: 02/29/2016

McLennan County commissioners Tuesday agreed to fund in part a new group aimed at recruiting sports events to further the area as an athletics attraction.

The Greater Waco Sports Commission wants to improve economic development by bringing in more events while coordinating efforts with local organizations. The commission, which is working to gain nonprofit status, also aims to enhance and retain existing events while finding gaps in service.

Commissioners approved $50,000 for the organization for fiscal year 2016.

Rick Tullis, Greater Waco Sports Commission board chairman, said numerous peer cities across the state have some type of sports commission that aggressively works toward attracting sporting events. McLennan County is behind in that process, he said. Events have organically been drawn to McLennan County because of its location, he said.

“Nobody else has a Cameron Park. I don’t care how much bond money they get, they can’t build a Cameron Park on the Brazos River,” Tullis said.

County Judge Scott Felton said the group will be a real asset to the community.

“We do have a lot of activities like the TriWaco event, everything from equine to bicycle to cross country to volleyball, indoor, outdoor events, Little League and so on. It sounds like a worthwhile event,” Felton said.

$50,000 reserved

Felton said the city already has agreed to reserve $50,000 for the commission, but its budget has not yet been approved. Felton said the county’s part is the last piece of the puzzle, as several foundations already have extended financial support.

The county’s proposed fiscal year 2016 budget has been posted to the county’s website. Commissioners have until the end of August to adopt the budget.

Tullis said the organization needs about $250,000 a year to operate. For at least the first three years, he said, it will need help from the county, city, local foundations and private groups. He said eventually the organization hopes to generate its own funding source.

The Greater Waco Sports Commission board is searching for a director after its launch in March. The commission came together during the past few years from a group wanting to build a strategic entity to grow amateur- related sports and improve the area’s economic development and qualify of life.

Tullis said the commission plans to hit the ground running by taking inventory of athletics venues — detailed by dimensions, type of turf, restrooms and so forth — so it can market those locations. He said no such inventory now exists.

A well-produced sporting event could draw people from across the region to this area, and therefore put money into the local economy, all while providing health and wellness opportunities for locals and improving the area’s image, Tullis said.

Tullis said the commission will keep track of economic data as it relates to its efforts to show how it is benefiting the area and justify continued future contributions.

Also at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting

Commissioners voted to approve an agreement with former employee Stephanie Ayala, who was fired June 9 by Human Resources Director Amanda Talbert.

Ayala made wrongful termination allegations and the county found no support for that claim, “but seeks to avoid the expense and the diversion of employees and officials from their duties that would accompany administrative and/or court proceedings,” according to the agreement.

The agreement states the county recognizes Ayala’s length of service. Through the agreement, she was reinstated and immediately resigned, effective June 30, to allow her 20 years of continued full-time employment. The move didn’t grant her back pay, but will allow her to apply for disability retirement with the Texas County and District Retirement System.

Ayala agreed to release any claims to county employees.

About a dozen people June 16 stood outside the McLennan County Courthouse calling for the termination of Talbert, who was hired by the county March 6, claiming the firings of Ayala and former employee Genevieve Cervantez were racially motivated.