Baseball supporters seek to preserve Carrington Field in Bemidji
BEMIDJI - Baseball supporters made one last pitch to the Parks and Trails Commission Tuesday evening in hopes of preserving Carrington Field in Bemidji City Park.
"The dire situation we have right now is that we are losing a field," said Mike Fogelson on behalf of the Bemidji Baseball Association. "Without Carrington, we're going to be in huge trouble."
City Park is the next park that will undergo renovations through use of the city's half-cent sales tax. Current plans include a four-field softball complex, skate park, sand volleyball courts, outdoor hockey rink, 18-hole disc golf course, and bike, walking and cross-country ski trails.
Carrington Field, the No. 2 field for the BBA, is not included in plans.
Most commission members said they were baseball supporters and did not want to see baseball organizations suffer.
Rather, they pointed out that Carrington Field could be much better improved if the field were relocated.
"I have a passion for baseball, too, but is it going to work in the current location?" said Commissioner Darlene Dorr. "We want it to work well for everybody."
Renovations to Carrington, if kept at City Park, would be limited to field upgrades and aesthetic improvements such as lighting.
Because of its proximity to Bemidji Regional Airport, baseball supporters' initial hopes for a stadium would not be permitted, noted Commissioner Mary Auger said.
Still, Fogelson, who also is the head coach of the Bemidji High School and American Legion baseball teams, said the first choice for baseball supporters would be to have improvements done at Carrington and keep the field in its current location.
"The field is still very viable to us with upgrades," he said.
Jim Hess, the superintendent of the Bemidji School District, told the commission that the district just last year converted one of its two baseball fields into a softball field.
Had the district known what the commission was going to do in regards to Carrington Field, it probably would not have done that, Hess noted.
"But that's indeed what we did," he said.
Planning for City Park began last year, when the parks commission held listening sessions with user groups.
Softball supporters at the listening session said they would need to have four fields instead of their current three in order to host regional and statewide tournaments.
And now, in the plans, they will be getting four fields.
The disc golfers asked that that 9-hole course be made into an 18-hole course.
Skate park supporters asked that space be reserved for an 18,000-square-foot skate park.
And, the hockey association is asking for a total rink replacement, which is planned.
Fogelson said he and the BBA are excited about the changes for the park and also are pleased that groups such as skaters are being included. But, they can't help but wonder if it is fair.
"When you look at the project, my concern is that we are the ones being left out," Fogelson said. "I don't feel that it is (fair) for us to get a few nickels thrown at us."
The commission at last month's meeting requested Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson meeting with the city's baseball groups and determine what their preferences would be if Carrington Field were removed from City Park. Larson and parks commission chair Dave Smith met with seven baseball representatives on Jan. 28.
The baseball group presented a proposal in which the city would contribute $675,000 toward the relocation and ultimate improvement of the field, which would likely be located on school district property.
"If we remove this diamond from this park, we need to relocate this field," said Smith, the chair of the commission.
The parks commission on Tuesday voted to contribute $350,000 toward the field relocation, if it possible through the half-cent sales tax.
Whether that is possible is not immediately known; because the money is dedicated to parks and trail improvement, Larson said neither she nor City Attorney Al Felix were positive that the money could be used to improve a baseball field.