An aerial view of the Cooper Park and Sports Complex in Springfield shows the sports fields at the 127-acre park, 18 of which will be converted from natural grass to artificial turf in 2023. (Photo by Springfield-Greene County Park Board)

Soccer field development will be the first step in the transformation of one of Springfield’s key youth sports facilities. The Springfield-Greene County Park Board plans to break ground on field renovations at Cooper Park and Sports Complex in early November.

On Nov. 3, the Park Board plans to host a groundbreaking and an American Rescue Plan Act appreciation event for key players in the $22 million Cooper Park renovation project to celebrate the work done to this point. Parks Director Bob Belote said the meeting will be “for everybody that has worked so hard at the local and the state level to bring funds back to what we’re doing at Cooper Park with 19 fields being turfed.”

“We’re unbelievably appreciative of having this opportunity, putting well over $22 million back into Cooper Park,” Belote said. “Phase 1 is soccer, Phase 2A and 2B will be baseball, softball, and we’re kind of looking at that as one package project, but man, it is so exciting to get that underway and get started over there.”

Why care?

Sports tourism is a key point of emphasis for the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Springfield city government, and for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. The Park Board will receive more than $22 million in funding for renovations at Cooper Park and Sports Complex in an effort to attract more games and larger events.

Cooper Park, located along Pythian Street in northeast Springfield, is home to Lake Country Soccer’s fields, the Killian Sports Complex and softball stadium and the Cooper Tennis Complex. On Oct. 14, Park Board Assistant Director of Operations Miles Park told the Park Board that the injection of funds through ARPA offers a reason to evaluate and plan the future of the entire 127-acre park.

“We have an opportunity here to dial in the future of what that whole area looks like, just wanting to make use of the site to its best, fullest potential,” Park said.

The Park Board officials decided to break up the renovations in phases, and soccer will go first.

“The highest priority is to concentrate on the synthetic turf installation for the soccer fields, those are eight soccer fields on the north side of Pythian,” Park said. “It’s wise to take a look at the site in its entirety, that’s why we’re going through a master planning exercise with our consultant.”

October is tournament time

The Cooper Park and Sports Complex has one field with artificial turf, but could have eight turf fields with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. (Photo by Lake Country Soccer)

The Cooper soccer fields get use from college, high school and club teams from in and around Springfield. The park complex also hosts Missouri State High School Activities Association state championships in girls tennis and in fastpitch softball this month.

“October is our busiest month in terms of sports tournaments,” Belote said. “Cooper Park stays unbelievably busy for three straight weeks. This is Week 1 for state tennis, next week is Week 2 with the team championships, we follow that up with state softball.”

While tennis isn’t played on artificial turf, soccer and softball can be played on the synthetic surface, which returns to a playable form much faster than natural grass does following a heavy rain. The plan is for Springfield to pursue more tournament hosting opportunities in soccer once the project is done. The packed fall schedule offers some thoughts as to what the future could hold for Cooper Park, a future where more teams and more spectators come to take part in more events.

“It reminds us of the need to make these transitions to the turf environment a little bit more formal — just that ability when we’re playing in the spring, playing in the fall and dealing with Mother Nature things,” Belote said.

Aerial view of the Cooper Tennis Complex, featuring Mediacom Tennis Stadium, home of the Springfield Lasers of World Team Tennis. (Photo by Springfield-Greene County Park Board)

More than turf on fields

On Sept. 6, the Springfield City Council voted to enter into a $915,660 contract with Olsson, an engineering firm headquartered in Springfield, to plan, develop and write construction documents for the renovation of Cooper Soccer Complex, with a plan to use funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to pay Olsson.

In addition to doing geotechnical surveying and soil sampling in preparation to turn eight grass fields into artificial turf fields, Olsson is also tasked with designing the replacement of existing synthetic turf on Cooper Field No. 1.

The contract spells out that the engineers will design “stadium seating for up to 3,500,” at the main soccer field. The engineers will perform a full survey of the soccer complex, write construction documents for locker rooms and the redesign of a press box, write a master plan for the development of a concourse to the south of Field No. 2, and research shared parking lots, traffic flow in and out of the sports complex and assess any issues the complex’s growth creates for the surrounding neighborhood.

“Part of the consultant’s responsibility is to work with us in a master planning effort,” Park said. “It only makes sense because we’ve got a lot of work to do up and down Pythian.”

ARPA funding from two streams

An annotated aerial image of the three feature soccer fields and the Lake Country Soccer Complex at Cooper Park shows improvement plans for 2023. (Photo by Springfield-Greene County Park Board)

In July, the Springfield City Council voted to obligate $7.3 million toward revamping Cooper Park and Sports Complex as part of a $40 million ARPA bill with 15 different projects.

In May, the Missouri General Assembly approved a bill with $13.5 million in federal funding for renovations at the Cooper Sports Complex, and Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill into law.

The ARPA funding from the state will funnel through the Missouri Department of Economic Development, and requires a local match on the part of organizations that include the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. The Park Board is working with its main partners at Cooper Park, like Lake Country Soccer and the different colleges that use the fields for their athletic teams.

The Cooper Park and Sports Complex sits between East Chestnut Expressway and East Division Street in northeastern Springfield. Eight of the 14 soccer fields will be resurfaced with artificial turf, as will the six softball fields at Killian Softball Complex and five youth baseball fields at the Cooper Sports Complex. Part of the plan includes the development of one of those baseball fields into a “stadium complex” for bigger games.

The Cooper complex master plan

Some grass fields will remain at Cooper after the turf project is done. Belote said that the money the Park Board saves in field maintenance from having turf should translate into better care for the remaining grass fields at Cooper Park.

According to the Forward SGF master planning documents, Springfield parks generate $13 million to $15 million annually for the local economy. Facilities host more than 50 national, regional, state and local sports tournaments, according to the data Springfield planners collected. 

Springfield residents who participated in surveys for Forward SGF rated parks and recreation opportunities with high priority. About 45.2 percent of resident questionnaire respondents voted park and outdoor assets as Springfield’s greatest strength.

Under federal law, ARPA funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

Unrelated to the ARPA project, some extensive repairs are underway on eight tennis courts at the Cooper Tennis Complex.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger