City Council will make the call on the fate of the McIntire Park softball fields.
The City's master plan for McIntire Park, approved in 2008, calls for a turf field to replace the softball fields.
As Yogi Berra liked to say, "It ain't over 'til it's over."
While softball enthusiasts at McIntire Park may think the fields are safe, the City's master plan for the park still calls for their demolition.
In 2008, softballers were shocked to learn that the City's approved plan for the renovation of the park called for the elimination of the two lighted softball fields in favor of an all-purpose rectangular synthetic turf field. So they raised a ruckus. In response, Mayor Dave Norris proposed saving the fields, but some Councilors wanted more information. The decision was deferred and a joint City/County field allocation study was ordered.
Today, Norris admits there wasn't enough input from the softball community before the master plan with the field switcheroo was adopted, and he remains an advocate of preserving the iconic fields.
There's just one problem. The study hasn't been completed yet, Norris isn't sure Council will support the amendment, and the decision to ditch the softball fields has already been made.
"Unless someone does something," says City Council candidate Bob Fenwick, a long-time advocate for saving the fields, "those softball fields will be eliminated."
Fenwick suspects the issue has become a political hot potato ahead of the coming elections, as no candidate wants to be seen as the one who leveled the McIntire softball fields. "So its being kept kind of murky," he says.
The City officially named the McIntire softball complex last year in honor of Carl "Chubby" Proffitt, 92, a local World War II hero who was also a talented baseball and softball player (one of the fields was already named after Dewey D.S. Shiflett, a local softball legend), a move that would suggest the fields were safe.
But their fate is still undecided.
"Council's approved Master Plan for the park does show a rectangular field there," says Charlottesville parks manager Doug Ehman. "I would not presuppose to speak for the Council on any changes to the approved Master Plan."
Mayor Norris says he organized a meeting in 2009 between representatives of the YMCA, SOCA (a local soccer organization), and the softball league, all of whom spoke in favor of preserving the fields. In fact, Norris says that SOCA director Bill Mueller, whose organization stood to benefit most from an additional turf field, was adamant about finding turf field space elsewhere, as he didn't want to pit one group of recreation users against another.
"I completely agree with Mueller," says Norris.
The plan had assumed the County would allow lighting at Darden Towe Park for nighttime softball games.
"As we know now, that was an incorrect assumption," says Norris.
When softballers objected to the plan three years ago, arguing that the heavily used fields were the only lighted fields around, the City and County discussed the idea of lighting the mutually-owned Darden Towe fields.
That led to more City/County acrimony, as County leaders complained that their Towe-area constituents feared the potential loss of serene night skies.
"It's important to note that in the wake of that flawed Master Plan," says Norris, "Council approved a much better process for master planning our parks to avoid these kinds of mistakes in the future."
But does Norris have the support to save the fields?
"I hope so, but I won't know for sure until the vote," he says. "We had a majority back in 2009, but that was obviously a different Council."
Councilor Holly Edwards says she hasn't decided yet and wants to wait to see the field allocation study (although commissioned in 2009, the study won't be completed until this summer, according to Norris). She's hoping that whatever is decided will benefit area youth in all parts of the city, as she's confident the new YMCA will.
Freshman Councilor Kristin Szakos says she, too, is waiting to see the new study, but says she's "not pushing for replacement of the softball fields." Councilors David Brown and Satyendra Huja had not responded for comment by press time, but according to Charlottesville Tomorrow, Brown has shown some support for the idea of a turf field, while Huja has so far remained undecided.
Despite a City-approved plan that endorses the new turf field, it's hard to find anyone advocating very strongly for one. So how how did turf get so far?
Some have assumed it was the planned $15 million YMCA project that called for the elimination of the softball fields, but YMCA CEO Denny Blank says it was the City's plan, not the YMCA's, calling for the turf field.
"We'd be happy if the City didn't eliminate the softball fields," says Blank.
Still, when the City's master plan was drawn up three years ago it clearly took the new YMCA facility into consideration. In fact, interim Parks director Brian Daly says that earlier versions of the YMCA plan encroached upon the softball fields. In addition, road and trail design, landscaping, and parking configurations all appear to complement the footprint of the new "Y."
What's more, while the City's plan may threaten the softball fields, the YMCA's plan kills two heavily-used picnic shelters, complete with large brick fireplaces, electricity, and water, which were donated to the City decades ago by the Lion's Club. Unfortunately, they are standing in the way of the YMCA. Daly confirms the two shelters will be demolished and that new ones will be constructed elsewhere in the park.
"At one point, an individual with the Lions Club expressed interest in salvaging some of the materials from the shelters that will be removed," says Daly, "and we will work with them on that should they remain interested."
Representatives of the Lion's Club could not immediately be reached for comment.
Which way will Council go? While the approved turf field could provide a variety of sporting activities for area youth, who'll gain a new YMCA facility next door, the idea appears to have little public support. As for McIntire softballers, should they be called out at home, expect a vigorous appeal to the umpires.