Research by the American Planning Association, an educational organization that fosters leadership in good urban planning, shows municipal and county parks are essential for improving a community’s overall quality of life.

Community parks, among other things, help improve public health, create safe neighborhoods, help revitalize communities, increase community engagement, improve green infrastructure and aid and improve the environment.

They also can be a source of tourism and a key economic development tool.

Pima County has identified an 167-acre vacant property just across the freeway from the Kino Sports Complex that could prove a boon to not only the county’s quality of life but also to its economic development.

The county has an opportunity to purchase this land for $8.75 million and turn this scrubby, desolate bit of trapped desert into a recreational oasis — an oasis that also could make Pima County a major player in the burgeoning and lucrative sports tourism market by expanding on Kino’s already strong foothold in the growing interest in youth, recreational and pro soccer.

Quality of Life

Metropolitan Tucson in the past 40 years has grown so fast that local governments have had a difficult time keeping up with the cultural and recreational amenities needed to serve our community.

One of the largest parks deficits the region faces is ball fields. Finding adequate space within the urban area to build large playing fields is difficult and expensive.

The National Recreation and Park Association has developed best practices and standards for municipal and county governments to help them evaluate their communities as to whether they’re providing adequate facilities.

When it comes to soccer fields, Pima County is well behind the national standard. Based on the NRPA standard of one soccer field per 10,000 people, Pima County should have at least 100 soccer fields.

It has 62.

The county desperately needs more soccer fields and this is an opportunity to make up nearly a third of the deficit.

Economic Development

Sports tourism is a lucrative business and the metropolitan area benefits from it already, partly through the county’s new relationship with Major League Soccer spring training. Youth soccer also has an economic impact on the region each winter through the Tucson Association of Realtors Shootout, which last year brought in 358 teams and 6,600 tournament participants who spent about $3.1 million.

But other than the homegrown Shootout, Pima County misses out on hosting other major soccer tournaments because Kino Sports Complex has too few fields to adequately host a major tourney.

Soccer, especially youth soccer, is booming across the country. The time to capitalize on that growth is now.

Phoenix began building its Reach 11 Soccer Complex in 2007 and its 18 fields make it one of the largest soccer complexes in the Western United States and the largest in Arizona. That $27 million investment has paid off for Phoenix many times over. Each year Reach 11 hosts numerous state, regional and national soccer tournaments that have generated nearly $400 million in economic impact since 2009 (including $115 million in 2009 alone).

The expanded Kino complex, if constructed, would be bigger than Reach 11 and include amenities Reach 11 doesn’t have, including professional-quality fields, two medium stadium fields and the 12,000-seat Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Tucson and Pima County could have the largest and finest soccer tournament complex in the Western U.S. that annually generates tens of millions of dollars for the local economy, adding jobs and adding to the overall quality of life of metro region.

Before we can have all of that, we have to buy the land. This is an opportunity to improve the lives of our children and improve the quality of life for everyone in the metro region and to improve the economy of Pima County. We shouldn’t let it pass us by.

Ramon Valadez represents District 2 on the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Contact him at