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Dardenne Prairie proposed baseball field renovation sparks interest, concerns

Board of Aldermen Workshop Sept. 4 [John Tremmel photo]

At the Sept. 4 Board of Aldermen Workshop, Mayor David Zucker led a comprehensive briefing about the latest version of proposed plans for renovating the City Hall Park ball field complex.

Zucker’s intention was to generate discussion and comments about the plans, and that was accomplished. More than 20 people were in the audience, four times larger than the average number usually attending, and not all were Dardenne Prairie residents. Most comments were positive, but a few were concerned about the overall $3.8 million cost.

Zucker provided an overview of the ball field history and the renovation project plans. Parks and Facilities Superintendent Bob Easley described plans for a new, larger maintenance building. Parks and Recreation Coordinator Mat DeWinters described current usage of the ball fields and plans for the renovated facilities. City Financial Consultant Joy Howard described the financing plans and considerations.

City Hall Park baseball fields [John Tremmel photo]

Zucker explained that the current ball fields, dugouts and maintenance building were constructed beginning in 1953 by the Dardenne Athletic Association, using volunteer labor and donations. Over the years, they continued to maintain everything themselves, again using only volunteers and donations.

Zucker “tipped his hat” to the Association for how much they had been able to do for so long. However, by 2008, the Association was not able to keep up, so they leased the facility to Dardenne Prairie for 99 years. Then in 2015, the city was asked to take over operations of the youth baseball and softball programs. The intent was for the city to eventually renovate and take legal possession of the land and complex.

Since 2015, several ideas and plans have been discussed, leading to today.

Zucker explained that, as part of the latest plans, the city acquired on July 30 a 1.92-acre former soybean field immediately south and adjacent to the current ball fields. The acquisition cost $335,000 and was paid for using Parks & Recreation funds. Those funds will be returned to Parks & Recreaction fund from the renovation project’s master financing in coming months.

The total land available for the renovated facility now is 6.5 acres, up from the previous 4.5 acres.

Proposed new baseball field facility [Courtesy of Dardenne Prairie]

With the additional land, the proposed plans now include larger ballfields, a larger restroom facility and 93 paved parking spaces. Two of the ballfields would have 70-foot base paths, while a third ball field would have 90-foot base paths suitable for players up through high school level.

More land also enables the construction of four pickleball courts within the complex.

Zucker outlined a high-level timeline of having all plans completed and financing arranged in time to sign construction contracts in June 2020, begin construction in August 2020 and complete construction by March 2021, the start of the spring 2021 baseball season.

There would be no fall baseball in 2020. Other than that, no other youth baseball would be affected.

Howard outlined how the renovation project could be financed through the use of either 10-year or 15-year certificates of participation [COPs]. She clarified that COPs are not bonds and do not require voter approval as bonds do. They are debt instruments issued through financial firms such as Stifel Nicolaus [Stifel Financial Corp.]. COPs are riskier than bonds, so the interest rates are higher than bonds. The COPs would be repaid over the 10 years via the city’s current parks and recreation tax, still leaving enough money left over for parks maintenance. The collateral for the COPs would be the ball field facilities and land. Howard concluded by pointing out that the city has very little debt and excellent operational fund reserves.

Per Zucker, the COP approach would avoid using any of the city’s financial reserves for the ball field renovation project, keeping reserve funds available for maintenance of streets and roads and other strategic projects when needed.

During the open question and answer session, no attendee names were given. However, one couple said they were from Wentzville and were avid pickleball players. They said they supported the Dardenne Prairie ball field renovation because it includes the four outdoor pickleball courts. The speaker claimed there are 3,000 people in metro St. Louis who play the sport, there are 3 million players across the U.S., and most prefer to play on outdoor courts.  He also said there are very few outdoor courts in the area, resulting in high demand and long waits.

As an incentive, he said that pickleball players “like to enjoy adult beverages after playing, and they will become customers of local establishments rather than go the other way down the road.”  Another couple from Ballwin echoed those sentiments as did a couple from Lake Saint Louis.

A couple from Dardenne Prairie spoke in favor of the renovation, because the current ball field facilities are looking too shabby and tired, and also because they like pickleball. They said that the sport is no longer just for seniors because it is being taught to children in schools.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It is played both indoors and outdoors on a badminton-sized court, with a slightly modified tennis net. Players use a paddle and a plastic ball with holes. It can be played as doubles or singles.

After the discussion of the renovation plans, nearly everyone in the audience left, making it clear that the renovation has generated interest and pickleball is an important part of that interest.

When the aldermen asked questions, they primarily were interested in the renovation cost and the financing alternatives [e.g. bonds versus certificates of participation, and the interest rate differences].

Aldermen Dan Koch [Ward 3] and Mike Costlow [Ward 2] indicated they remain concerned about the $3.8 million cost of the renovation project.  Koch said, “This [renovation project] would cost as much as the new city hall, and city hall generates $50,000 per year income [from leases].” He further said he did not believe his constituents would support that much spending for ballfields that not everyone uses.

This was a workshop discussion and comment session only, with more discussion to be followed by a bill submitted for a Board of Aldermen vote sometime in the next two months.  However, it seemed clear there still are several divergent points of view from different stakeholders.

 

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