$2 million offer on table for ballfields

Published 2:05 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2016

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Former Smithfield Foods President and CEO Joseph Luter III has offered to give the town of Smithfield $2 million for a sports complex that has been in the planning stage for years.

Luter’s offer comes with three conditions. The first is that the ball fields include a brick entrance, the second that the facility be named for his father, Joseph W. Luter Jr., and finally, that Isle of Wight County commit $250,000 toward the project.

 Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams outlined the offer Thursday to the Board of Supervisors.

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The commitment could be spread out over a period of years, said Smithfield Vice Mayor Andrew Gregory.

The Board opted to table the request in order to gather public input.  {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

 The $2 million offer is in addition to the $1 million donation from Smithfield Foods, for a total of $3 million. The money is for a project that began a few years ago, and was to be built on Great Spring Road until it was derailed by wetlands issues.

The town of Smithfield has since purchased about 110 acres off Route 258 and has a maintenance commitment from the Smithfield Recreation Association. The SRA is also raising $100,000 to go along with Smithfield Foods’ contribution, Williams said.

The facility would include baseball and softball fields, fields for soccer and Pop Warner football and a shell building for an indoor turf field, Williams said.

Williams said Beale Park is currently overcrowded.

“It’s just overcrowded. We’re in dire need of having more fields,” Williams said.

The complex will also bring more visitors to the county, Williams added.

Isle of Wight County has previously committed $200,000 over a period of years for the same project, but withdrew that offer when the wetlands issue temporarily cancelled the project, as well as other issues.

Smithfield Vice Mayor Andrew Gregory said about half of youth signed up with the Smithfield Recreation Association, Smithfield Soccer and Pop Warner live outside of town limits, but within Isle of Wight County.

Pop Warner is also about 70 percent minority, he added.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson was solidly against the proposal.

What about Hardy Park, asked Jefferson, referring to the land in Rushmere set aside for a park, but as yet undeveloped since being donated to the county several years ago by the developers of Lawne’s Point.

“I’d be hard-pressed to say I have $250,000 to give to Smithfield without giving money to Hardy Park and Camptown,” he said.

The site of the proposed sports complex is in the Hardy District.

Board Chairman Rex Alphin said the commitment doesn’t fit the “parameter” of public funding since most residents in the county would not use the facility.

Shortly after committing to Smithfield’s ball fields project in 2013, the Board also decided to give the town of Windsor $100,000 to restore the former Windsor Middle School gym as a community center.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said Pop Warner teams have been pushed off of public school fields, and Isle of Wight has funded items in the past that were not in the best interest of the public.

Among the expenditures that raised the ire of county residents was $1 million spent too purchase the Stoup property, located next to the James River Bridge. It was purchased with no public input or designated use and remains unused. The Board of Supervisors also spent more than $1 million on a 2,507-acre Blackwater tract in 2010. That property also remains unused, although plans for a park are included in the county’s capital improvement plan beginning in 2020.

McCarty wanted more public input and has since created a survey for residents at https://surveymonkey.com/r/Q8VWM3P and is called Sports Complex Survey.

Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice said that if the county walked away from an offer like that it “would make us look very foolish,” if the main criteria is to put Luter’s father’s name on it.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree said he wanted to hear from Windsor District residents before making a decision.  {/mprestriction}