Now that the city of Tracy is building athletic fields north of town, however, the future of the ballpark includes the possibility that the city could sell the land for residential development.
That was a central theme of a meeting Monday, Sept. 17, at the Tracy Community Center, where city Parks and Community Services Director Rod Buchanan and city-hired consultant John Courtney of RJM Design Group of Sacramento outlined proposals for the land.
Tracy Ballpark comprises 11.27 acres between Tracy Boulevard and Bessie Avenue just south of Grant Line Road,
Buchanan told a group of 12 people, including neighbors and people involved with youth sports, that the concept of selling and developing the park and then recreating the same types of fields at the new Holly Sugar Sports Complex was just an idea for the purpose of gauging public sentiment.
Buchanan said decreased maintenance costs and a more active sports complex for all leagues were among the reasons to consolidate the city’s athletic fields at the Holly Sugar site.
The first 70-acre phase of that 166-acre project is under construction. Youth sports teams could start to build their own fields in early 2013.
“This is an opportunity to move this site up to Holly Sugar so that we can have new fields, hopefully synthetic fields, to be able to have the sports leagues play on the increased capacity,” Buchanan told the group Monday.
Buchanan said the city could keep Tracy Ballpark, which has two baseball diamonds and enough room for soccer fields, as athletic fields. But a projected cost of $4 million, mostly to upgrade irrigation and drainage, makes that option too expensive, he said.
“We don’t have the funding … for a capital improvement project to improve those fields,” Buchanan said after the meeting. “The idea is, if we were to sell that property, (the city could) use that money, to build new fields at Holly Sugar.”
Development a possibility
The city did not identify any particular developers who want to build on the site, nor how much the land would sell for, but Buchanan said developers frequently show interest in the purchase of parkland, including the ballpark property.
Courtney, the consultant, outlined three development scenarios during Monday’s meeting. One would put 97 houses on the 11-acre site; a second would have 125 homes; and the third would have 14 houses along the west side of Bessie Avenue, with a 220-unit apartment complex on the Tracy Boulevard side of the parcel.
Courtney explained that the city is exploring the development potential of the land, because neighbors appear to be unhappy with the athletic fields along Bessie Avenue.
“The city has gotten a lot of complaints from the neighborhood that surrounds this park, in terms of the lighting on the ball field,” Courtney told the group. “Mainly, though, it’s noise and trash, and parking conflicts with people not being able to find a spot in the park, and having the overflow spill over and park in front of the residences. It’s a nuisance that wasn’t foreseen a long time ago when this converted over to parkland.
“Nowadays, if we were planning this park, we would not put an active ball field sports park on residential streets.”
But for 68 years, the park has been one of the city’s central recreation venues.
When Paul Ritter drives past Tracy Ballpark, he’s always happy to see kids playing baseball or soccer or practicing for their youth football games.
For Ritter, owner of a local insurance business, the park represents a family legacy. His grandfather, Carlton Ritter, sold the 11.27 acres to the city of Tracy in 1944 for $10, essentially a donation. With that donation came the understanding that the land would be the home of the city’s ball fields.
“If he were here today, he’d want that to continue,” Ritter said. “My grandfather would be thrilled to see the park and the way it’s being used.”
The grant deed does not specify in writing that the land must remain a park, but Ritter said his grandfather’s understanding with the city was clear enough.
“A handshake meant quite a bit, and a handshake should mean the same thing 70 years later,” he said.
People at Monday’s meeting also endorsed continued use of the land as a park. They split up into two discussion groups, and both recommended improved irrigation, upgrades to the grandstands and bleachers, and more access to parking around the site.
Jonathan Blackwell, the president of Tracy Junior Bulldogs youth football, which practices at the park, said the central location of the park and the visibility it offers the teams are advantages for the leagues that practice and play there.
“It is one of the marketing vehicles for the sports programs,” Blackwell said. “Kids go by there and see that there are other kids of similar age participating, and it gives them encouragement and motivation to try it.”
He also pointed out that much of the parking in the area goes unused because of the one-way configuration of the driveway next to Bessie Avenue — and also because it is too far from the south part of the park, where the Tracy Buccaneers youth football teams practice.
“While the streets are crowded, the parking lots are often half empty,” Blackwell said. “I’ve seen that myself.”
Phillip Treat, who lives on Bessie Avenue a block south of Tracy Ballpark, said the parked cars and traffic connected with youth sports are inconvenient at times, but he expects traffic from a new housing development would be worse.
“This would be every day,” he said. “Tracy Boulevard would not stand it, and neither would Bessie.”
He said the condition of the park, and the city’s insistence that renovation would be too expensive, speak essentially of neglect by the city.
“From what I see, the city of Tracy has not been maintaining the ballpark for this reason, to get rid of it,” he said. “I understand that we have no money, but I’ve been paying taxes since 1976, and I don’t see my tax dollars going to that park.”
Council weighs in
The Tracy City Council gave its perspective at its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 18. The council did not vote on the matter, but Mayor Brent Ives told Buchanan that the council should be aware of any recommendations city officials are putting forward.
“Right now, I feel like we don’t have any certainty of what’s proposed,” Ives said.
The mayor added that city staff members should take another month to collect information before asking for public opinion.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about it until there’s something that the council has been able to vet and be able to say with some certainty that these are the things that might happen,” Ives said. “At this point, you’re stirring up the public about things that may or may not happen.”
Councilman Robert Rickman said any development proposals for the site are premature.
“When we talk to the residents of that area, we need to be more forthcoming about what could be the possibility,” Rickman said. “I know for a fact that one of the things we were looking at, one of the ideas proposed, is apartments. If that’s the case, I know this council member is strongly against that.”
Councilman Michael Maciel supported the proposal to sell the property and use the money to build athletic fields at the Holly Sugar complex, as long as teams would not have to go without fields in the time between closure of Tracy Ballpark and the opening of new fields.
The council also zeroed in on one of the key issues — the distinction that park designers and city staff make between athletic fields, which draw heavy traffic at times, and community parks, where the use is less intense.
Councilman Bob Elliott said the typical resident does not make the same distinction when looking at open green areas in town.
“If that park goes away, then that part of the city is pretty much without a park,” Elliott said.
Rickman was more adamant in his opposition to the possible change in land use.
“When you go talk to neighbors, go tell them that it’s not their park,” he said. “You can call it whatever you want. It is their park. We should give every opportunity to address their concerns.”