COLUMBIA — Two empty fields at the entrance to the Atkins Baseball Complex in north Columbia could undergo a significant transformation if voters support a six-year extension of the park sales tax on Tuesday's ballot.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department plans to spend $650,000 on the third phase of the complex's development if voters approve. The work would begin in early spring 2016 and be complete a year later.
Priorities for the complex include:
- $100,000 to install a pump system so that fields can be irrigated with water from a nearby lake.
- $450,000 to $475,000 to build two baseball fields on the vacant fields, bringing the total number of fields in the complex to five.
- $75,000 to add more parking.
- Any remaining amount to build a playground and shelters, to plant trees and to pave a rocky walkway.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said the irrigation system would save the city about $13,000 per year because it would eliminate the need to irrigate the fields with drinking water. He said the city could use the savings to hire more maintenance workers to cope with the increased number of fields.
Griggs hopes to make the complex a “premier” facility by adding unique features that would distinguish it from others in the Midwest. He said park planners are trying to come up with various ideas to make the "boring" fields at the complex now more special. One idea is to install fences that are 12 feet tall or even higher, rather than the normal 6-foot fences, around the fields.
"This also allows more diversity in the ages of the teams that could use the field," Griggs said. "It could be our own version of Boston's Green Monster."
Griggs said he also hopes the proposed playground can be a unique feature.
“We want to make it something that (would) maybe have a baseball theme to it," he said. "That would be something that would be attractive to younger kids as well as older kids.”
It would also have several climbing areas.
“Looking at Atkins, we are up on the hill anyway,” he said. “It is kind of one of the tallest spots in Columbia, geographically speaking.”
The shelter would make the complex a more comfortable environment for players.
Griggs said that during tournaments, baseball teams often play at 10 a.m. then have another game at 2 p.m. Since there is not enough sitting area to accommodate all of them, they often have to drive outside the complex, grab a quick lunch and rush back in to play.
The shelter would have shaded picnic tables that would allow players to have a good rest and be ready for the next game.
Steve Reller, executive director of the BC Baseball League, said that although he supports the parks tax and the idea of adding new fields, he thinks Columbia is not keeping the original concept of public baseball fields.
"In the last 10 years, there have been six new fields added in Columbia, and … many of those fields are being dominated by college and high school teams during the peak months of the year," Reller said.
He said that there are about 100 competitive youth baseball teams in the Columbia region and that the number could rise to between 200 and 300 if recreational teams were counted.
Griggs said the $650,000 allocation of sales tax proceeds might not be enough to accomplish all the projects planned for the Atkins complex, but he is positive that the work eventually will be complete.
“We are pretty sure because, you know, we could do a lot of work ourselves (by using our operating budget). That is what would help us.”
Adding more baseball fields would reduce the number occasions when players have to drive outside of Columbia to play due to the lack of fields.
“We do not have to have these satellite sites,” he said. “Because if I am on a team, I do not want to play it at 10 o’clock in Columbia and 2 o’clock in Moberly. That is tough on a team.”
More and better baseball fields could be an economic benefit to the city, Griggs said.
Emily Lorenz, spokeswoman for the Show-Me State Games, said the direct economic impact from this year's event was more than $11.5 million.
She said that of the 24,375 athletes who participated, 4,118 were baseball players. That was second only to basketball, which featured 5,497 players.
Lorenz said that on average the games attract one spectator per player, which means baseball alone would have attracted more than 8,236 people to Columbia in July.
Megan McConachie, spokeswoman for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that the majority of hotel rooms in Columbia were sold out and restaurants were busy during Show-Me State Games period.
Lorenz said the new facilities at the Atkins complex could attract more players and their family members. Griggs said that's the goal.
“That is what we want to try to do. We want to try to keep people here in town, and we want to bring more people here in town.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.