Windsor Rec. officials back Luter offer

Published 3:46 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2016

By Diana McFarland

News editor

The Windsor Athletic Association plans to write a letter of support for the proposed sports complex in Smithfield, according to its Boys Commissioner Justin Turner.

The group also plans to go before the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors with the Smithfield Recreation Association in support of the project, Turner said.

Despite that show of support, plans for the multi-million dollar facility has rekindled longtime animosities, such as a perceived lack of assistance for other projects in other parts of the county.

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Former Smithfield Foods President and CEO Joseph Luter III said he would contribute $2 million to the project if the complex would include a brick entrance wall, be named after his father, Joseph Luter Jr., and a $250,000 contribution from Isle of Wight County as a way to demonstrate its commitment. The town of Smithfield is buying the land for the complex, and recently retired Smithfield Foods President and CEO C. Larry Pope has offered to donate $1 million. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

When asked to make a contribution last month, three Board of Supervisors members — Carrsville Supervisor and Chairman Rex Alphin, Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson and Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree — wanted to hear from the public before making a decision. 

Acree said the decision to wait on feedback didn’t mean he was opposed to the project.

“The reason for waiting was to listen, and that’s what we were put here to do,” he said.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty initiated a survey and so far, out of about 700 responses, 90 percent are in favor of the sports complex, which would include indoor and outdoor facilities if the $2 million from Luter is part of the deal.

Of those in favor, 42 percent did not have children that would use the facilities as part of a sports program. The majority of favorable responses came from the Smithfield District (39 percent) and the Newport District (28 percent) followed by Hardy (15 percent), Windsor (14 percent) and Carrsville (4 percent).

Of the 10 percent of survey respondents who were opposed, the majority came from the Hardy (27 percent) and Carrsville districts (28 percent) and 73 percent did not have school age children.

Duplicate surveys were not permitted, McCarty said. 

Acree is concerned that residents at the southern end are not as represented as those on the northern end.

In a prior iteration of the project, once to be located off Great Spring Road, Alphin voted against a boundary line adjustment for the county-donated property to be moved into town limits, as well as against providing a $200,000 contribution, citing inadequate county coffers at the time.

Bob Ballinger, who is a trustee for the Windsor Athletic Association and whose comments do not represent that organization, is opposed to providing taxpayer money for a complex operated by a private organization.

As part of the deal, Smithfield Recreation is slated to operate and maintain the baseball and softball fields, while the town of Smithfield will handle the scheduling and programming for the multi-purpose field and indoor facility, as well as landscaping, said Gregory.

The town will own the entire facility and lease the baseball and softball fields to Smithfield Recreation, he said.

The decision to sell the existing Beale Park, now owned by the Smithfield Recreation Association, is still in the air until the Board of Supervisors makes a decision about its contribution, said Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams.

If Beale Park is sold, the proceeds will go to the new sports complex, Williams said.

The town has enough, with the help of Pope and Smithfield Recreation, to build four baseball and softball fields, but the donation from Luter will take it to a new level that would attract users from beyond Smithfield, Gregory said.

“It will make it a destination,” he said.

One feature that will be added, if Luter’s contribution is accepted, is an indoor climate-controlled multi-use field. In addition to baseball, the facility would be able to benefit Pop Warner football and soccer, said Gregory.

An indoor facility of that size would be useful for Isle of Wight County schools, said Newport District School Board representative Vicky Hulick.

Old animosities

The question of whether Isle of Wight should contribute $250,000 or not has rekindled old animosities between the town of Windsor — which often sees itself as not receiving as much as the northern end of the county — and Smithfield, which has been uniquely fortunate to benefit from generous contributions from Luter and Smithfield Foods spanning back decades.

Ballinger said private residents got together and built the Windsor Athletic Association ball fields and did not solicit funds from Isle of Wight County. The organization did get some assistance from the Camp Foundation, but didn’t want the government involved, he said. Eventually the county gave the Windsor Athletic Association some land located behind its current facility.

Ballinger admits to being a bit jealous of Smithfield getting the help of Luter and Smithfield Foods, but “God bless him,” he said of the former meatpacking scion.

His concern is about giving taxpayers’ money to a facility that will be run by a private organization, Smithfield Athletic Association.

What happens when Windsor’s facility gets old and needs new equipment, “what do they say then?” he asked.

Acree said he could understand how people who volunteered so diligently may feel unappreciated when taxpayer money is freely given to other projects.

Windsor Town Councilwoman Patty Flemming points to other areas where it seemed that Windsor residents relied more on themselves than the county for funding, such as the Windsor High School field house, the Windsor Library and the former Windsor Middle School gym, which is currently being renovated with a mix of funding from Isle of Wight ($100,000), the Obici Healthcare Foundation and private donations.

Gregory said the Board of Supervisors decided to make a contribution to the Windsor gym because of its original decision to provide $200,000 for the first iteration of the ball fields.

Several individuals took out personal loans to build the high school football field house and did not ask the county for help, Flemming said.

While Smithfield High School’s football stadium facilities were criticized by some users several years ago, Isle of Wight County schools did not build a new fieldhouse, as believed by some, but merely fixed the cinderblock bathrooms at the field, said Schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs.

The Smithfield High School Athletic Boosters built a new concession stand, and that was done through its own fundraising efforts, Briggs said.

Smithfield does not have a fieldhouse, and athletes use existing school facilities, she said.

The Windsor Library was also a private effort, while the county built the Carrollton Library, Fleming said.

The Carrollton Library was built by Isle of Wight County, but received about $45,000 in funds raised by the Carrollton Woman’s Club and the Friends of the Library, said Sibyl Gillespie, who is a member of the Woman’s Club.

Flemming also pointing out that Bradby Park remains undeveloped and there’s nothing comparable to Nike Park in the southern part of the county.

The 50-acre Hardy Park came as a result of a land donation from a developer and currently needs a new wetlands delineation as the original one has expired. Last year, it was estimated to cost $7,500 for another delineation and about $250,00 to clear and grade the site and create grass parking.

Lack of progress on the park is a sore spot for Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, who is opposed to the county giving money for the sports complex for that reason.

There is another park located in the Hardy District, Fort Huger, which is a passive use park highlighting the Civil War era fort. The proposed sports complex will be nearly in the center of the Hardy District, which extends from Rushmere to Central Hill Road, located south of Isle of Wight Courthouse, and eastward past Bowling Green Road.

Heritage Park is located just outside the Windsor town limits, but is mostly used for the Isle of Wight County Fair. Last year, the Board of Supervisors agreed to apply for a grant to develop an ATV trail at Heritage Park.

Meanwhile, Isle of Wight County has invested millions in developing the intermodal park, which is on the outskirts of the town of Windsor. Since the three existing tenants have arrived, particularly Keurig Green Mountain, sales and meals tax revenues have gone up significantly in town.

Alphin said the intermodal park has also provided a good number of jobs and benefits everyone in the county.

Isle of Wight County also built the new Georgie D. Tyler Middle School while Hardy Elementary School remains in need of a new septic system and Smithfield High School is at capacity.

Flemming agrees that the intermodal park has benefited the town of Windsor and that Hardy Elementary School needs work, but asks about the needs of Rushmere and Camptown too.

“I think there should be some common sense decisions made,” she said.

Windsor Mayor Rita Richardson supports the sports complex and had hoped the county had moved beyond the territorial mindset.

Richardson feels strongly that whatever is good for one end of Isle of Wight is good for the entire county.

“It’s a wise use of taxpayer dollars,” she said.

Alphin said the sports complex can benefit many entities and wants to get together with everyone involved, such as the schools and the athletic leagues, and turn this into a “win-win situation.”

“We need to look at the county as a whole entity. If we can bring something that will benefit all the children, we should take advantage of it,” he said.

Acree said many people seem to be willing to put aside the idea of territoriality for the general good of the entire county.

“It’s about the children,” he said.


Quest for quality ball fields has been long


By Diana McFarland


News editor

The quest to build high quality ball fields in the northern end of the county began more than a decade ago when the Smithfield Recreation Association wanted to build a multi-field complex at Benn’s Grant. Those fields were to be financed through a combination of private donations, grants and funding from the town of Smithfield and Isle of Wight County.

As it is today, Smithfield Recreation was bursting at the seams at its current location at Beale Park. The project was estimated to cost about $3 million and the Association was working with Ripkin Design and Management (as in former major league baseball player Carl Ripkin).

At one point, another private entity was developed, the Isle of Wight Amateur Athletic Association, which was also involved in the plans that by 2008 had evolved a regional baseball facility and stadium at Benn’s Grant.

Those plans faltered as the recession began and former Benn’s Grant developer, Armada Hoffler, backed out of the deal.

In 2012, Beale Park got an upgrade after winning second place in the Norfolk Tides Baseball Club Youth Baseball Makeover contest. 

The next year, former Smithfield Foods President and CEO C. Larry Pope offered to donate $1 million toward a ball fields complex. Isle of Wight County donated 20 acres of land and offered $200,000, while the town of Smithfield offered another $200,000. Those plans fell through, however, when a wetlands survey found it would cost prohibitive to develop the site.

Plans remained dormant until the town of Smithfield found another piece of land west of town off Route 258 last year, and most recently, with the $2 million offer from former Smithfield Foods President and CEO Joseph Luter III.  {/mprestriction}