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Interchange should be industrial, Cramer says
Congressman: Future Tanner development not best area for proposed sports complex

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — Recreation isn't what U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer has in mind for the future Tanner interchange.

Although Cramer, D-Huntsville, cannot restrict local officials from allowing a recreation development, he has secured $4.3 million for the Interstate 65 interchange at Huntsville-Browns Ferry Road, and has influence with industries that would be interested in a TVA megasite.

The Tennessee Valley Authority megasite initiative certifies large industrial properties for potential automotive manufacturing or assembly plants.

Officials from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., have approached the Limestone County Economic Development Association and Athens officials about building a travel ball complex at the proposed interchange.

City Council President Harold Wales said a developer proposed that the city buy 100 acres to develop the complex. Mayor Dan Williams said the developers would then propose leasing it.

Cramer said a Daily article was the first he heard about that proposal.

"And I can't find anybody to give us a clear definition about this proposal," Cramer said Monday. "So it's hard for me to make an evaluation about it, but it would seem a development like that could be at some other location."

Cramer said interchanges like Tanner's are "few and far between." He said he foresees an automotive manufacturing plant, steel mill or some other major development at the interchange. Then as the Huntsville-Browns Ferry corridor between Limestone and Madison County expands, residential and commercial development would emerge, he said.

The city and LCEDA have not made any commitments to complex officials but are having discussions with them, Wales said.

Softball dad Mark Gibson, who has been involved with travel ball for about six years, said he would welcome a travel ball complex but he, too, would rather see such a development somewhere other than the interchange. "I think it would need to be closer to town," Gibson said.

Although this proposed development deals with baseball, Gibson said it is an interesting concept, and he would like to see someone develop a complex for softball.

"There are no softball fields at the Sportsplex," Gibson said. "We've been fighting with the city to do something with the girls, anyway."

The Sportsplex is on U.S. 31 near the Athens interchange.

The local softball league and travel teams use Cowart Elementary for games. The city gave funding for a new concession stand and irrigation at the Cowart fields.

Although some parents like the Cowart fields, the travel team needs more room, Gibson said. The city is home to the North Alabama Explosion, which this year had seven teams of 84 girls. Its Father's Day tournament netted 77 competing teams, up from 57 teams last year, and was the second largest tournament in the state.

Cramer said recreational opportunities are important, especially with families moving here due to the Base Realignment and Closure.

"But I see a big modern plant at that interchange site," Cramer said. "I hope the state holds to its 2009 timeline to finish it. It is some of the most valuable land in North Alabama, and we need to be careful what we put there."

Gov. Bob Riley said before the Nov. 7 general election that construction would begin in 2007 with completion set for 2009.

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