An Elkhorn youth sports organization is going public with an ambitious proposal for sports facilities in western Douglas County: a $35 million outdoor athletic complex.

The proposed athletic fields at 264th and Ida Streets outside Valley are still conceptual at this point. To make the project a reality, organizers are counting on private donors, philanthropic supporters and sponsors, not local government, to get behind youth sports.

But believing in the need for the fields, two suburban nonprofit organizations — the Elkhorn Athletic Association and the Elkhorn Soccer Club — are merging under the association as they move forward.

The association also is bringing on fundraising firm the Steier Group, which manages fundraising campaigns for churches around the country but also works with nonprofits.

Bruce O’Neel, the association’s executive director, acknowledged the project is a massive undertaking.

But O’Neel said the organization’s priority is to stay focused on the kids they serve and their needs. If that happens, he said, the project that results will be right for the community.

“It’s about the kids,” he said. “It’s about the community.”

The project is the latest sign of strength for youth sports in the community.

Last year, Omaha Sports Academy and Nebraska Elite Volleyball opened the new $10 million indoor youth volleyball and basketball complex in Elkhorn. Union Bank & Trust even bought naming rights for the athletic center, located just off 204th Street and West Dodge Road.

Elkhorn Soccer Club has grown to more than 1,500 players, while the Elkhorn Athletic Association has more than 3,100 players in baseball, softball, football and basketball, according to the groups. About two-thirds of the players are in recreational leagues, with the rest on competitive teams, O’Neel said.

“With more kids coming into the community, we’re just going to see more and more growth,” said Rob Herringer, who has been the Soccer Club’s executive director and is now the Athletic Association’s assistant executive director and its soccer director.

Without dedicated fields of their own, the organizations have faced similar challenges accessing available athletic field space. This year, both of the Soccer Club’s regular complexes along the Elkhorn River flooded.

The two organizations started talking about an outdoor complex about six months ago.

“This just makes perfect sense for us to come together to develop a facility to meet the needs of our young athletes,” Herringer said.

The association’s concept calls for 16 baseball and softball fields; five soccer fields; one turf field for soccer, track and football; six grass multiuse fields; and one barrier-free field.

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The association has the property under contract to purchase and is due to close on the sale March 1, O’Neel said. The land sits just off Highway 275 near the Love’s Travel Stop.

Planning and zoning approval with the city of Valley is underway. Joan Suhr, Valley’s city clerk/treasurer, said the Valley Planning Commission is due to review the plans Nov. 19.

The Steier Group will be starting a four-week planning study to gauge the project’s level of interest and support in the community, said Kevin Warneke, the firm’s director of client advancement.

O’Neel said fundraising could start after the first of the year. Ultimately, he said, the project will be built and scaled depending on the level of support, with other additions, such as an indoor fieldhouse, set into the future.

Organizers hope to be playing games on the site within one to two years.

Said O’Neel, “We have more work ahead of us, and it’s still a big challenge.”

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