City joins County: no lights for Towe softball

mcintire park softball players game"The master plan is not in stone," says City Parks boss Mike Svetz, despite City Council's May 19 to destroy the two softball fields at McIntire Park..
FILE PHOTO BY RYAN HOOVER

In an abrupt decision, Charlottesville's leaders have suspended until an undetermined date a planned public hearing scheduled for their next City Council meeting–- leaving local softball players in limbo without a firm decision on the future of either Darden Towe or McIntire Park's softball fields.

Following the example of Albemarle County's Board of Supervisors– which recently decided not to sign a resolution approving the lighting of Towe's three softball fields–- City Council has taken the issue of lighting Towe off its radar for the time being.

"Because the County chose to defer their decision, the City chose to defer taking up the issue at this point," says Charlottesville Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Svetz. "We'll wait longer because although the city does co-own the park, it is in County property and directly affects County residents."

Instead of holding a forum for softball, the City will include on the November 3 consent agenda the issue of lighting Towe's tennis courts, a pill that was easily swallowed by the County back on August 13. The tennis lighting has been seen as a less controversial issue, especially with private funds expected to pay for it. With the County embroiled in a budget budget crisis, pouring money into Albemarle parks is not a realistic option.

"Even if the softball resolution was accepted," says County Parks and Recreation Director Pat Mullaney, "there's no money around to do the work."

While the City and County have stalled the progress of Charlottesville softball–- a league that was initially overlooked in the City's McIntire Park master planning process–- softballers have recently stepped up  efforts to make their voices heard.

Led by softball player Bob Fenwick, who organized the Save McIntire campaign, the McIntire Park Preservation Committee has formed. The committee, which is also run by Towe neighbor Clara Belle Wheeler and softball supporters Mala Cunningham and Randy Page, plan on keeping the issue of field space at the forefront of the city's awareness.

"Not lighting Towe was an appropriate move since the City basically tried to force the hand of the County," Fenwick said in an email. "This delay will now give us time to present to the citizens of the city the entire picture of losing the best part of McIntire Park."

Despite indefinitely pushing back their Towe lighting decision, the City expects to move forward on a McIntire overhaul. As the Piedmont YMCA begins its building design phase, Svetz expects to revisit the controversial master plan that removed McIntire's two softball fields in the first place.

"The master plan is not in stone," Svetz says. "To do due diligence and the best thing for the community as a whole, revisiting the master plan is the right thing to do."

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1 comment

Copying over much of my comment on cvillenews.com:

The tennis players are getting lights that they are basically paying for themselves.

Cost to play city softball: $600 a team
Teams per season: 150-200
Income taken in: $90,000 - $120,000

If the new lighting needs to be paid for by softball players, take it out of what they are already paying to play softball in the first place. Even if you bumped up fees by $5 a person or whatever to get lights at Towe, I don’t think there’d be a huge uproar. It'd take a few years (at least) to recoup the money from the lights, but it's certainly possible. The numbers don't even take into account the increased field rental revenue that could be had from having more fields available for tournaments and private organizations.

The shortsightedness of this is if those fields go away, city softball gets cut in half, at *least*. Goodbye to that revenue.

Having a strong parks & rec department and sports being offered benefits everyone in the community, from kids who actually get outside and play, to the local businesses that benefit ââ?¬â? t-shirt/uniform makers, such as Blue Ridge Graphics, High Peak Sportswear and post-game hangouts such as McGrady’s and Wild Wing Cafe. All of which ends up bringing in more tax revenue to the city, and a good chunk of softballers drive in from neighboring counties to play and spend their money here.

This decision is shameful. We can spend millions rebricking the mall which could be done far cheaper with a pair of masons fixing bricks, but can’t spend half that to invest in our local parks.