Well over 150 cricket supporters crowded into the aldermanic chambers at Dardenne Prairie City Hall on May 18 and applauded when the city’s Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 in favor of an agreement with the American Cricket Academy and Club of St. Louis. Alderman Doug Santos [Ward 2] was absent.
The agreement supports the growth of the sport in the city, but its fate may depend on the availability of parking near where a proposed cricket “pitch” is to be built in the city’s Barathaven Park. The assembled group, which included many Dardenne Prairie residents, is willing to take that risk.
The academy, a nonprofit group in the county that instructs children in the sport, agreed to pay for a cricket field or “pitch” to be installed in an area between two practice soccer fields in the 80-acre park.
The academy will reimburse the city $26,887.35 for building the concrete pitch. A reservation fee [to use the city-owned pitch] will be waived by the city for three years and a discounted reservation fee will be collected in the fourth and fifth years of the agreement.
Ajay Jhamb, executive director for the academy, said the group could pay the city about $40,000 over five years. In exchange, the city will reserve the playing area for eight hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays from April 1 to about the end of October. The academy hopes to begin play this summer.
But the agreement could go foul and was signed amid warnings from Mayor David Zucker and Alderman Dan Koch (Ward 1), the lone nay vote, that the academy could lose its investment if parking lots at the adjacent former Lindenwood University Nursing and Allied Health Center cannot be used. Lindenwood is selling the center, which was the former site of Barat Academy.
Zucker reiterated that the city has no assurance that anyone buying the Lindenwood property would allow the present parking lots to be used by the public for park activities. If parking isn’t allowed, the city could consider using an existing easement to build a drive and an 80-vehicle parking lot. However, the drive and lot could take up the property set aside for the cricket pitch. It also is uncertain whether the city would consider taking that step since it could cost as much as $200,000 to do so.
The easement in question was granted by Lindenwood to the Green Rivers Greenway, the regional parks and trail district. If built, the city-owned access road would follow the easement across a baseball field at the former Barat Academy site to reach the new parking lot.
Koch said that he, and many of the residents contacting him, support cricket but question the agreement.
“Making sure that you have parking that isn’t just a handshake with somebody or an assumption that you’re going to have parking – no written agreement on parking – is not a good deal,” Koch said. “If it goes bad, that means there will be a lot of kids disappointed in the fall if they don’t have a place to play.”
Koch urged more patience and waiting until questions about parking, access and adequate restrooms to serve the cricket and soccer fields are addressed.
“Sometimes desperation is not a good bedfellow with common sense,” he said.
Jhamb said parents want their children to have a place to play. The academy approached the city in February requesting several pitches in city parks. Supporters say they are willing to take the risk, saying they may be able to work out something with whomever buys the Lindenwood property.
“We are desperate,” Jhamb said. “I’ve knocked on every door in St. Charles and St. Louis counties, every city. I never knew that my own city would have a place to play.”
Many cricket supporters are city residents who came from India, Pakistan and other parts of Asia, and who now work at local companies such as MasterCard, Enterprise Leasing and Citicorp. They want to offer their children and others in the area the chance to learn and play the game.
Cricket, one of the most popular sports in the world, is growing in popularity in the St. Louis area.
Jhamb said the academy, a nonprofit group, was formed last July for students, both boys and girls, who range from age 8 to 14, and has grown to 150 children largely by word of mouth.
“I think this will be a model for other parts of St. Louis and St. Charles counties to follow,” he said.
Zucker said the city cannot wait because space for the pitch is part of a separate project to relocate a trail near Dardenne Creek controlled by Great Rivers Greenway. The city has already awarded a contract and has to get the work underway. The relocation would provide space for cricket pitches near soccer fields.
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played by teams of 11 players on a rectangle 22-yard field or “pitch.” It shares some terminology with baseball because a “batter” strikes a ball thrown by a “bowler” to score “runs” during “innings.” It also elicits passion among those who play and follow it.
That passion was on display before aldermen at the May 18 meeting as a half-dozen or so speakers spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Sitting in the audience were a group of young players, along with parents, many holding signs saying, “We support cricket in Dardenne Prairie.”
“What we’re trying to do is build a community here,” Jhamb told the board. “We’re doing something for the youth of our town. It’s not [that] we’re running some club to make money.”
Jhamb and other speakers also said they were asking to use the fields in the city rather than having to travel, sometimes to cities such as Houston or Dallas, to play games.
Ganesh Krishnamurthy, a long-time Dardenne Prairie resident, said cricket is “a gentleman’s game” with rules that encourage sportsmanship and respect for opponents.
“There is a chance for us to be an ambassador for this new sport,” Krishnamurthy said. “Let’s encourage that.”
Meanwhile, Zucker and Koch, after the vote, said that they hoped the parking issue could be resolved. Zucker said the larger issue may be use of the three soccer fields if the current parking lot is lost. He said he has no assurance that aldermen would be willing to put out the money to use the easement to build a replacement lot.
“That may be very controversial,” Zucker said.
The meeting itself pleased city officials, who don’t often see a lot of residents in attendance.
“I thought it was a well-ventilated discussion, very respectful and a delightful experience,” Zucker said.