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Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Soccer

Tukwila soccer fields to be ready late next month

Special to The Seattle Times

TUKWILA — Where weeds and apathy once grew, the ground now holds the seeds of hope.

The future of the local soccer community can be seen sprouting. Starfire Sports Complex, formerly known as Fort Dent Park, is coming alive.

The one-of-a-kind, world-class soccer complex, which features a 2,000-seat centerpiece stadium, is expected to introduce four new outdoor FieldTurf fields for use late next month.

A grand opening should follow once the rest of the work, including an 80,000-square-foot athletic center, is complete in March or April.

The complex, which is being built on land owned by the City of Tukwila, is the vision born of years of conversation by three determined men — Chris Slatt, Steve Beck and Mark Bickham.

They form the founding group of Starfire Sports, a nonprofit corporation focused on giving tomorrow's soccer players a place to groom their game.

"We've been dreaming about doing something special for soccer for a while," said Slatt, Starfire's CEO. "Our hearts were in the place of trying to create a special place for kids to play soccer.

"We believe that adults pay for kids to play. We will make it cheaper for kids to play soccer here. By charging adults, hopefully we make it easier for kids to get access to the sport."

Adult teams will pay in the range of $95 an hour for the FieldTurf fields, he said, while youth teams will be charged about $60 an hour.

The finished complex, which started with some of the components of what was known as Fort Dent Park, will be the marvel of the Seattle-area soccer community, according to Slatt, Beck and Bickham.

Tim Busch, president of the 15,000-member Washington State Soccer Association, said "It looks like it's going to be a first-class facility," he said. "That should lend itself to regional and possibly national tournaments. The new turf will allow much more (usage) than grass fields. Plus, the location is close to the airport."

Right now, the centerpiece stadium's redesigned grandstand is taking shape, complete with a new roof. When finished, Starfire Sports Complex will offer eight outdoor fields and two indoor FieldTurf fields. The four new outdoor FieldTurf fields will be lighted.

The athletic center will house the two indoor FieldTurf fields, locker rooms, weight room, meeting and film rooms, physical-therapy rooms, food court, game room and study hall with Internet connections.

"We believe we have the largest synthetic-turf soccer complex in the U.S.," said Slatt of the project, which broke ground June 20. Four existing grass soccer fields are in use while the project moves toward completion. A four-field softball area will remain intact.

Starfire Sports ultimately will spend $10 million on the 54-acre project after signing a 40-year concession agreement with the City of Tukwila.

The land was closed and transferred from King County to the City of Tukwila on Jan. 1, 2003. The county targeted several parks for transfer or lease after discovering it would have a $52 million budget shortfall for 2003.

With Starfire stepping in, it could save county taxpayers $12 million over the 40 years. Starfire essentially pays for the cost to build and run the new soccer facility and the city picks up maintenance costs for children's play areas, picnic areas and the parking lots.

"They were very forward-thinking when they designed it," said Dick Mohrmann, president of the Washington State Youth Soccer Association. "It will help with the growing need for fields and give us another place to hold our state tournaments."

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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