Macedonia -- A year and a half after plans were approved for a controversial indoor soccer facility, the project officially broke ground July 7.

John Ortlip, Ambassador Football President said a prayer over the site and the city during the ceremony which nearly 50 people attended including several international soccer players of all ages.

"It's not real yet," Ortlip said. "Once the buildings go up, it will get real. I have had this vision for 10 years and it's been a long time coming."

Parallel Partners Managing Director Chris Kontur, developer for the project, said "it is awesome seeing machines on the site."

The facility, which will be owned by Ambassadors Football, formerly of Twinsburg, had met strong opposition by neighboring residents and some businesses due to the initial proposal's need for variances for building height and setbacks.

The city's planning commission approved final plans for phase I of the Highland Pointe Parkway project in February 2016. Trees were cleared on the 17-acre lot in spring 2016 but the project stalled for a year while the non-profit evangelical organization worked with financiers.

The international organization had some trouble securing financing because they are an international group, according to Ortlip. He credits Renee Booher of Huntington Bank and the organization's finance officer Anne Tilley their for their work making the soccer complex a reality.

"Renee really understands our organization and the project," Ortlip said. "We have different finances because we are an international and a local operation so our finances are complex. Renee put in the time to help secure our finances."

Ambassadors previously owned 97 acres in Twinsburg, but sold 95 of the acres to help secure financing. Ortlip said the organization kept two acres which includes a house and a barn the organization uses for storage and to house missionaries.

Ambassador Football purchased the triangular shaped lot at 8186 Highland Pointe Parkway Feb. 16, 2016 from the city, which acted as trustee, for $435,000, according to the Summit County Fiscal Office. The city was named trustee after claiming more than $500,000 in back taxes are due on the land.

Former Mayor Don Kuchta committed the city to facilitating the property's sale to boost development in the area.

The $3.4 million cost of the first phase of the project includes a 27,300-square-foot building that will contain a one-third regulation size soccer field for practice, 83 parking spaces, a retention pond and infrastructure for phase II. Due to opposition from residents adjacent to the property, the second phase will be sunk into the ground to reduce it's height.

Initial plans, proposed in 2014 for phase II, included an international-regulation sized soccer field in a 100,000 square-foot, building with a roof peaking at 70 feet.

Architects went back to the drawing board after meeting a room full of apprehensive residents during an informational meeting held by developers Parallel Partners in January 2015. Residents cited concerns about noise, lights, traffic, safety and aesthetic issues they felt would lower their property values. Additionally, developers would have needed the Board of Zoning and Building Code Appeals to a variance for a proposed building height of 70 feet.

Upon taking office in 2015, Mayor Joe Migliorini drafted a memorandum of understanding between the city and Ambassadors. In the memorandum, Ambassadors agreed to keep the roof no more than 35 feet above ground level, and to recess the building a minimum of 10 feet below the site elevation. Ambassadors also agreed to update a traffic study for the area, construct an exclusive right-turn-only lane to accommodate southbound traffic on South Bedford Road, extend the sound-blocking vinyl fence and plant trees long the north side of the structure.

Migliorini told the News Leader July 7 he is happy to have Ambassadors as part of the community.

Kontur said Phase II is still in the planning phase, but once phase I opens he feels it will "catapult" phase II into existence.

"We feel there will be a great surge in demand for phase II once phase I opens," Kontur said.

Ortlip said the soonest he anticipates movement on phase II is 2019.

"We need to get a year under our belt, and see how things are moving, see how the economy is," Ortlip said.

Briana Barker: 330-541-9432

bbarker@recordpub.com