‘Field of Dreams’ a dream no longerPublished 9:02am Monday, September 28, 2009
Silver Creek Township and the City of Dowagiac officially closed on 35 acres known as Russom Field on Friday, Sept. 25, reaching a goal set nearly nine years ago.
The project was first brought into the public eye in 2002 when the city established the goal of consolidating the area’s youth sport programs into one location.
In 2005, the city applied unsuccessfully for State of Michigan Trust Fund assistance to acquire the existing 17-acre youth baseball park plus an additional undeveloped 18 acres to accommodate softball, soccer and football.
In the 2005 application, Silver Creek Township had committed to assist financially in the project.
This commitment of purpose and financial support led to a partnership with the City of Dowagiac wherein both the city and township applied in 2008 for separate but cooperative $100,000 grants (each) from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
In addition to the two state gGrants, the city and township would be required to contribute more than $109,000 in local funds.
Complementing the township/city partnership was a commitment by the Russom family to donate nearly one-third of the appraised value of the property.
With the financial blocks in place, it was still necessary to secure support of the community, and such support came quickly.
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Wayne Township, Dowagiac Union Schools, Boys Baseball, AYSO Soccer and Rocket Football all responded with letters of support.
As well, many citizens contributed, particularly the residences along Yaw Street.
With financial and community support in order, the township and city submitted their applications to the state early in the summer of 2008.
The state’s evaluation of the applications was intense and, in the eyes of the city and township, was at times brutal, so much so that it became necessary to enlist the assistance and support of state Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks.
Finally, in August 2009, more than 14 months from the time applications were submitted, the city and township received their grant agreements.
However, hurdles were not yet cleared.
The state had yet to approve the appraisal on the property, originally submitted in May 2009. Without this approval the property could not be acquired.
Again, it became necessary to request assistance from the state Legislature. Through the assistance of state Rep. Sharon Tyler, R-Niles, the appraisal document was freed from the backlog within the state Real Estate Division and approved by the MIchigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in early September.
With that final puzzle piece in place, the property could be acquired.
Now the hard part starts.
Not only do the city and township need to manage their budgets to account for their combined $109,000 local match, they must also start planning just how the park will operate and how improvements will be funded.
The first step in that process will be for the city and township to appoint three members each to a Russom Park Board, which will oversee management and development.
This board will seek and receive input from all user organizations in its efforts to develop a master plan for the park to meet community youth sport needs.
Once developed, the board will then need to find ways to fund these improvements.
The task will be ongoing and a challenge, yet it is a very good challenge to have, as the community now has its field of dreams.