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The future of Ab Brown Sports Complex is uncertain

The future of the Ab Brown Sports Complex in Riverside’s Northside neighborhood has some soccer organizations concerned about whether it will continue to be used for youth leagues or developed into something else.

Thousands of children have utilized the complex for decades and leaders of youth sports organizations and clubs say they want to keep it that way. With city council approval of Riverside’s Northside Plan in November last year and disconnected conversations between sport organizations and city leaders, some fear that available sport-play space will dwindle.

Riverside City Football Club said they approached city staff in summer 2020, hoping to negotiate a lease agreement of the complex. The former lease holder, American Youth Soccer Organization, could no longer afford the utilities and upkeep of the 56-acre facility and hoped to sublease from RCFC.

RCFC Board President Robert Lennox and Vice President Rick Paiz said the Community & Economic Development Department (CEDD) did initially open the door for discussion.

Lennox said negotiations seemed to progress in two phases. “First, we asked for a traditional lease agreement, similar to what AYSO had, and about 95 percent of the way through that process they pulled it,” he said. “Then they felt it needed to be a [request for proposal] process, which is competitive, before they could give it to us.”

They did submit an RFP, outlining the investment the organization would take should they be given use of the space. Then, the conversation seemed to halt and never restart, according to both Lennox and Paiz.

“We had calls with [CEDD] put together by the mayor,” Lennox said. “Two or three months ago, they promised to get back with us but they never called us back.”

According to a November 2020 presentation of the Northside Specific Planto city council that was then approved, the area surrounding the Ab Brown Sports Complex has been designated for rezoning purposes. It was not explained however how the facility itself would be used or revitalized.

The complex includes nearly 39 acres of playing fields and 15 acres of gravel parking lot and there are two, full-size fields that can be lit for night play.

Terry Kelly, Riverside AYSO commissioner, said AYSO was hoping a partnership between RCFC and the city would come together, as it would have meant subleasing opportunities for other soccer organizations who have less funding.

“There are so many soccer club organizations that have nowhere to play and are all competing for the same space now,” Kelly said.

Paiz said RCFC’s main motivation was not that they would be the primary leaseholder, but that the property would be used for youth sporting events until the city could sell to a potential developer.

“The findings of the city’s Parks Master Plan are that there are severe deficits in resources for youth and adult sports,” Lennox said. “All they’ve done is compounded the problem even more. They don’t have the facilities to accommodate … for youth and adult sports.”

City officials and staff did not respond to requests for comment.