Sports MOU troubles supervisors

Published 12:17 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

At issue is public availability

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Concerns about public availability at the new Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex led the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors to put off signing a memorandum of understanding with the town of Smithfield.

“This is too vague,” said Newport District Supervisor William McCarty at Thursday’s Board meeting, referring to a paragraph that covers what groups would be allowed to use the fields.

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Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said the paragraph also does not distinguish between the baseball fields and a planned multipurpose field.

Some Smithfield Town Council members had raised similar concerns.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Paragraph five in the MOU states that the facility can be used by Isle of Wight County schools, Isle of Wight County Parks and Recreation, the Windsor Athletic Association, the town of Windsor, as well as other non-profit recreational associations if the fields or facility is not already being used by the Smithfield Recreation Association.

It was the last part that gave the Board pause.

Keaton said the county has talked to town officials about facility availability and how difficult it would be to schedule some events in advance.

“That’s going to create the most issues,” he said.

McCarty was concerned that the SRA could simply say the facility is already booked — and eventually use by the schools and parks and recreation would fall by the way.

Isle of Wight County Parks and Recreation Director David Smith expressed the same concerns.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson asked about the multi-purpose field to be used by Pop Warner, which is about 70 percent minority youth.

Smith said it would take time to develop the turf on a multi-purpose field before it could be used regularly.

“The town will be in charge of scheduling this facility and policies for its use are being developed and will be adopted by council, as we have done with other public parks,” said Stephenson in an April 21 email.

The multi-purpose field and perimeter track is currently under construction along with the rest of the complex, said Smithfield Town Manager Peter Stephenson.

Isle of Wight had agreed to contribute $250,000 over five years to help defray the cost of building the facility, which is to include baseball and softball fields and a multi-purpose field for soccer and Pop Warner football, as well as a concession building currently priced at $637,100.

The town of Smithfield purchased the land for $775,000, Smithfield Foods contributed $1 million and former Foods President and CEO Joseph W. Luter III contributed $2 million. Farmers Bank chipped in $175,000 and SRA is expected to sell its current ball fields at Beale Park and donate $300,000 to the project. SRA is expected to manage the property and obtain the liability insurance, according to the MOU.

However, SRA doesn’t plan to put its property up for sale until it reaches an agreement with the town about managing the new facility. The agreement has been under negotiation since November.

“I want to make sure this is something great for all of our citizens,” said McCarty.


Several efforts to build ball fields

          By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Efforts by the Smithfield Recreation Association to build bigger and better ball fields in Isle of Wight County date back more than 10 years.

In 2004, the SRA was looking to build a $3.7 million tournament level ball park at Benn’s Grant.

The project was fueled with a study by Ripkin Design and Management — a company founded in 2002 by former Baltimore Orioles Shortstop and Baseball Hall of Fame member Cal Ripkin Jr., and dedicated at its outset to bringing professional baseball to communities.

Gina Ippolito, SRA publicity director at the time, said the plan was to create a facility to accommodate tournaments, training camps for college teams or high school teams throughout the region and out-of-state, as well as a growing membership within the organization.

Funding for the public-private partnership was expected to come from fundraisers, private donations, corporate sponsorships and contributions from the town of Smithfield and Isle of Wight County.

The plans were eventually removed from Benn’s Grant and the SRA turned its eye to Windsor Castle Park. There it wanted to build a $1.3 million lighted Little League complex to accommodate a growing player roster at SRA’s current fields at Beale Park.

Windsor Castle neighbors balked at the idea and the plan was shelved.

The idea of ball fields arose again in 2013 when Isle of Wight County purchased land for a new rescue squad building along Great Spring Road, right outside the town of Smithfield limits.

It was then that Smithfield Foods agreed to donate $1 million — provided the parcel of land annexed into the town of Smithfield. The town of Smithfield, Isle of Wight County and Smithfield Recreation were all poised to contribute money to the estimated $1.6 million project. That version of the project also included a challenge field for disabled youth, batting cages, walking trails, picnic areas and more. The SRA was to manage the facility.

However, excessive wetlands on the property derailed that location.

Three years later that project was revived after the town purchased 110 acres off Route 258, and $3 million in donations were pledged by Smithfield Foods and former Foods President and CEO Joseph W. Luter III.

Luter stipulated that, for his $2 million donation, the park is to be named after his father, Joseph W. Luter Jr., and include a brick entrance to the facility.  {/mprestriction}