‘$1 million to a millionaire’ – Council to allocate $1M in public money for private LSC youth soccer fields

Lexington, Ky. – The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council gave unanimous initial approval for a controversial $1 million funding agreement for the development of private youth soccer fields in the city. The decision has sparked heated debate due to concerns about exclusivity, limited access, and rising fees associated with the sport. A final vote on the deal will come in June.

The funding, allocated as part of a larger incentive package, will assist Lexington Sporting Club (LSC) in covering infrastructure costs for the construction of at least seven youth soccer fields on Athens Boonesboro Road. While the fields are currently under construction, they are set to serve as exclusive facilities for LSC, a private soccer club.

The approval of the funding agreement has raised questions about the fairness and accessibility of the fields. Despite a total youth population of 67,200 in Lexington, only 1,400 youth will have the opportunity to utilize these facilities, according to Kevin Atkins, chief development officer for the city. Furthermore, the location of the fields poses challenges, as they are difficult to access, particularly for residents on Lexington’s East End and North Side.

LFUCG Chief Development Officer Kevin Atkins speaks to Council at the May 23 work session. (LexTV screenshot)

Participation in club sports like soccer often comes with steep and rising fees, making them unaffordable for many families. Although scholarships are available, they are limited in number and typically reserved for the most talented players, further exacerbating the exclusivity of the sport and the associated facilities.

According to a fee schedule on LSC’s website, the annual fee for a 12-years-old and under (U12) boys’ team is $2,200 for the 2023 – 2024 season. That $2,200 does not include equipment, transportation, or assessment costs. According to a person familiar with the youth league, the annual fee for a U12 team was $1,200 for the 2022 – 2023 season, representing an 83% increase from last year. A lower level U12 league costs $2,000. Each league requires an initial deposit of $300.

LSC youth league fee schedule (LSC)

The controversy surrounding LSC has intensified in recent weeks as the council deliberated a zoning change for their proposed stadium site. Opponents criticized Lexington Sporting Club for its alleged “subterfuge and deceit” in seeking locations for the stadium and youth fields. Concerns were also raised about the possibility of the final stadium site being constructed in Nicholasville instead of Lexington.

Critics argued that the proposed soccer facilities cater primarily to the wealthy and elite, excluding marginalized communities who lack access to transportation and resources required to participate in the sport. The absence of public transit options further compounds the issue, making it challenging for underprivileged youth to reach the remote location of the fields.

There’s no equitable access.

Walt Whitaker, President, Lexington-Fayette NAACP
Lexington-Fayette NAACP President Walt Whitaker spoke against the proposed stadium at a Council meeting in April. (LexTV screenshot)

We are creating a soccer stadium for the rich and elite. None of the poor can get there, yet the city wants to give $1 million to a millionaire

Judge Julie Goodman
Judge Julie Goodman speaks out against “a soccer stadium for the rich and elite” in April. (LexTV screenshot)

The $1 million funding agreement generated no debate among council members at Tuesday’s work session, however. While some members expressed reservations about supporting a project with limited public access in 2022, others have argued that the allocation is needed to incentivize economic development and bring tourism dollars to the area.

LSC estimates that the total investment for the youth sports fields will amount to $20 million, reflecting the significant scale of the project. Alongside the city’s funding, the club has also secured approval for Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act incentives, which provide rebates on sales tax refunds related to construction expenses.

LSC is still actively selecting a location for a new soccer stadium. While a 6,000-seat stadium was recently approved near the youth fields, the club is also exploring the possibility of establishing a stadium in north Jessamine County, close to the Fayette County line. They are pursuing tax increment financing, or TIF, for that project, and have previously expressed a desire that Lexington would provide some type of financial incentive to level the playing field.

As the negotiations between LSC and the city continue, the debate over the exclusivity and accessibility of the soccer fields and associated facilities remains a contentious issue. Advocates for equal opportunity and inclusivity are calling for measures to ensure that youth sports resources are accessible to all members of the community, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location.

Top photo: The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, with Vice Mayor Dan Wu presiding, unanimously approves $1 million in public funds for private soccer fields. (LexTV screenshot)

This article was updated on 5/26 to reflect that the approval given Tuesday was initial approval.