Russom panel meets with Little LeaguePublished 10:30am Tuesday, February 16, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
At its second meeting Monday night, the Russom Park Committee took its first steps toward creating a master plan by meeting with Dowagiac Little League.
Russom Park Committee meets the third Monday of the month at 7 p.m., this time at City Hall.
At its next meeting March 15 at Silver Creek Township Hall on Dixon Street, the committee, chaired by Silver Creek Township Supervisor Bill Saunders, expects to meet with youth soccer officials.
The committee heard that Dowagiac has an opportunity to host two sizable tournaments in the next two years.
This year would be a 16-team, eight-day baseball tournament for 9- and 10-year-olds from across Michigan, including two squads from the Upper Peninsula.
In 2012, this district hosts another tournament for 16 12-year-old teams that was described as twice as large, with more than 200 participants and their parents.
Committee members also include City Manager Kevin Anderson as vice chairman/secretary, First Ward Councilwoman Lori Hunt, Jim Benedix of Dowagiac, Silver Creek Trustee Joel Moore, James Humphreys of Silver Creek, who works for the Elkhart, Ind., Parks Department, and Gary Carlile, staff liaison.
Larry Brewer suggested that instead of adding a number of fields, if one them could be lit games could go later at night. “You wouldn’t need to use up your acreage,” the umpire said. “Right now we’re calling it quits at 8:30. Instead of eight fields, we could have six.”
“From a cost standpoint, it might be more economical to light a field than to construct and maintain a new field,” Carlile agreed.
“We’re looking at long-term,” Saunders told Little League representatives President Ron Allen, Dan Leversen and Paul Soderbloom.
“We’re looking at putting together a master plan for that entire acreage,” the 36 acres Dowagiac and Silver Creek acquired, “then it’s going to be developed in stages. It may take 10 years. We’re going to be working to allocate money as we go along. Some years we may not be able to allocate anything.”
Their working cooperatively recently landed the two partners the tri-county Graham D. Woodhouse intergovernmental cooperation award from the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission in Benton Harbor.
The award is named for Dowagiac’s 1980s mayor.
Little League will no longer have to lease its four ballfields for $2,500 a year, which it can apply to other maintenance expenses, such as “moon dust” applications to the hard infields. Aging backstops are curling at the edges. The baseball organization also wants to invest in breakaway bases for safer sliding.
“We’re not thinking of moving any of the fields or anything like that,” Saunders said.
“I think we’d be wide open,” Anderson said. “If you say you want as a group to take on a project and fundraise, I don’t think we’d get in the way of that at all. The only thing we’d say is we need to have final veto power over some plans because, ultimately, if an organization goes belly up, it comes back to us. Now that we’ve got ownership underneath it, the public has liabilities.”
Tournaments could be “a huge economic engine for this town,” Leversen said. “As Little League, we want the best possible baseball and softball facilities.”
“It’s not uncommon to see a well-run sports complex generate $80,000 to $100,000 over the course of a year,” Anderson agreed. “With that, you can do a lot of upkeep and improvements,” although it doesn’t reach that level “on day one. It evolves over time and builds a reputation for a solid facility. And it does take investment to get to that point.
You’ve got to have state-of-the-art fields. The way it’s got to go is grants and fundraising because I’ll be real frank, the city coffers and, I’m pretty confident, township coffers, are not overflowing with money.”
Saunders also reminded, “Our grant application is for a community park” for all ages, “not strictly Little League or strictly soccer. We’ve got to put something in there for adults, whether it’s a walking track with some exercise equipment and a little kids play area,” such as the compact playground Niles added to Plym Park.
“The facility takes up very little room, but it sure brings in the people,” Saunders said. “I think eventually we’d like to see centralized concessions and bathrooms, but it’s going to take time and money, which is why we have to put together a good master plan.”
Flag football was another possibility discussed.
Little League representatives agreed to furnish the committee with their short-term and long-term goals.