Luter rental too high?

Published 6:29 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Town staff wants to slash fees to attract users

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer 

Smithfield town staff has proposed cutting the rental rates in half for use of its four baseball fields at the Joseph W. Luter Jr. Sports Complex in order to increase interest in the facility — and ultimately, boost revenue. 

Smithfield Parks and Recreation Director Amy Novak said that several coaches and player parents told her staff that the complex’s field rental rates were “very high” compared to other area facilities. 

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“We were almost double, so we wanted to be comparable to the facilities in our area, although we know that Luter Sports is nicer,” she said at the June 25 Smithfield Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, adding that the new rates would still be high compared to some area facilities, but that the difference wouldn’t be as large.  {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Novak said that she’d like to have a lower rental fee advertised on the Luter Sports Complex website in order to draw more clients, and then potentially increase the fees later if the facility gains popularity. 

The option of renting any of the five fields on an hourly basis has also been eliminated in the proposal, which was expected to go before the Town Council for a vote July 2. The complex’s fields include four baseball fields and one multipurpose field, which is shaped like a football field and has a track around it. 

“The main goal of adjusting the rates is to increase interest in the facility so teams and tournaments from all over Virginia and North Carolina will want to use LSC. If you can get them to come to the venue once and they see how beautiful the complex and our town are, then the good word will spread quickly,” said Novak in an email dated June 29. 

The fee adjustment proposal also adds Smithfield Pop Warner Football and Cheerleading to the list of organizations that can use the fields without charge, alongside Smithfield Recreation Association. SRA has a 20-year lease on the property that gives the association scheduling priority for the baseball fields, according to its lease agreement with the town.

In terms of rate structure, Luter Sports Complex users are divided into three levels that dictate what rental fees apply: the Level 1 user — Smithfield Recreation Association — does not pay to use the complex at all or for field preparation, according to the unamended fee schedule. The fee structure amendment proposal, if adopted, would make Smithfield Pop Warner and Cheerleading Level 1 users as well. 

Level 2 users include Isle of Wight County Parks and Recreation, Isle of Wight County Schools, the Windsor Athletics Association, the Town of Windsor and other Isle of Wight-based recreation associations. They pay $150 to rent one of the baseball fields and $100 to rent the multipurpose field for a day in the unamended fee schedule. Level 2 hourly rates are $20 per field per hour for the baseball fields and $12.50 per field per hour for the multipurpose field. 

Level 3 users — which include youth sports organizations outside the county, adult sports leagues and other nonprofit and for-profit organization events  — pay twice the Level 2 daily and hourly rates in the unamended fee schedule and are required to pay a 50-percent estimated cost deposit.   

If the proposed fee changes are adopted by Town Council, baseball field rental rates will be halved for Level 2 and 3, at $75 and $150 per field per day, respectively. The 50-percent deposit requirement for Level 3 users continues in the proposal, as well as the multipurpose field rental rates. 

If the rate changes go into effect, light fees would remain $50 per hour and additional field preparation — such as dragging the infield, lining batter’s boxes and foul lines and moving bases, mounds and goals — would remain $25 per occurrence per field for Level 2 and 3 users. 

Comparatively, softball fields at Nike Park in Isle of Wight County can be rented for $50 to residents and $80 to nonresidents per field for a full day, with rates going to $30 and $50 for a half-day rental. Light fees are $35 and $45 for residents and nonresidents, respectively, and dragging field costs range between $15 and $25. 

Sports fields at John F. Kennedy Athletic Complex, Kings Fork Athletic Complex, Monogram Ball Field and Peanut Park Softball field — all managed by the city of Suffolk — are $60 for a half day with lights included and $115 for a full day with lights per field. Without lights, fees are $40 for for a half-day and $65 for a full day per field. A $25 application fee and a $150 refundable deposit is required, and fields at the various parks include baseball, softball, football and soccer fields.     

According to Novak and Smithfield Pop Warner Treasurer Sean Kelly, Pop Warner has an MOU agreement with the town to use the football field in exchange for a percentage of the youth football nonprofit’s registration and concession sales income at the end of the season. 

On top of a $25,000 annual rent, SRA has an arrangement with the town to pay $30,000 in annual fees in lieu of selling SRA-owned Beale Park, with the latter payments starting in 2020, according to the lease amendment. Prior to that arrangement, SRA had intended to sell Beale Park and contribute $300,000 from that to the construction of the Luter Sports Complex.

In the effort to save Beale Park, a fundraising committee put on a successful golf tournament last month, raising more than $20,000, according to SRA President Chris Kennedy. 

“We didn’t have enough room for all the teams that wanted to get in,” he said, adding that another tournament is in the works that will accommodate a larger number of participants.  

While the Luter Sports Complex opened last fall, the lack of a VDOT-required turn lane requires a police officer to direct traffic whenever the complex is used for events. A $1.05 million turn lane and utilities project that’s planned to begin later this summer will, in addition to implementing a turn lane, connect the complex’s sewer lines to those on W. Main Street and eliminate the need for the current “pump-and-haul” system, according to Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams. 

Kennedy said that operation of the complex is not limited and has been used every day by the association in the spring and into summer during their regular youth baseball season. He also said that the “pump-and-haul” system for the porta-potties on site is working fine.  {/mprestriction}