Tracy city officials have restated their desire to help local sports teams establish a new home at Legacy Fields, stopping short of a commitment to spend $5 million or more to give the teams a start on constructing their fields.
A city public works management analyst, Brian MacDonald, spelled out how much it would cost to give teams a boost at Tuesday’s Tracy City Council meeting, but he also cautioned the council against big financial commitments when other city projects await funding.
In 2012, the city entered into an agreement with Tracy Little League, Tracy Babe Ruth, Tracy Futbol Club and Tracy Youth Soccer League: the city would create infrastructure and the leagues would develop and maintain their own fields.
Money is the problem for the youth sports leagues, which have yet to start building their fields, including irrigation, turf and drains. The city spent $11.3 million to prepare the first 72-acre phase of the 166-acre sports complex, located on Tracy Boulevard just north of city limits.
The leagues must raise money or use volunteer labor to build their part. Estimates of how much that will cost were the topic of the council’s discussion Tuesday.
The council considered ways to help, including spending $25 million to build 12 baseball fields and eight soccer fields at the city’s expense, or spending $5 million just to put in sprinklers and drains for the fields.
Without taking a vote on the matter, the council opted to spend $100,000 to hire a consultant to help teams with their fundraising efforts and told MacDonald to come back with a proposal the council could vote on.
MacDonald said after the council meeting that regardless of the funding level, the city is committed to helping the sports teams finish Legacy Fields.
“This is still a partnership,” he said. “We’re trying to walk with them step by step on this.”
The $11.3 million the city has spent was enough to put in roads, parking lots and the main irrigation and storm drain lines that lead to and from the fields. The 2012 agreement required the leagues to put in their own sprinklers, drains, backstops and turf.
The city’s share of the project was deemed complete in December 2013. So far, two of the leagues, Tracy Little League and Tracy Babe Ruth, have plans to build some of their baseball diamonds by spring 2015. Another league, Tracy Futbol Club, is no longer involved with the project, and Tracy Youth Soccer League has yet to take action.
None of the leagues had representatives at Tuesday’s council meeting.
TYSL President Shirley Thompson said on Wednesday that her group needed more than a city-hired consultant.
“That’s not going to help us,” she said. “Everybody is already fundraising. There’s no money out there. Most of the leagues are spending money just to keep their kids on the field.”
She said that with 1,500 players paying $125 each for the fall recreational league, the league had just enough money to cover expenses, including rentals of Plasencia Fields and Tracy Sports Complex.
“If we raise our costs too much more, they can’t afford to play,” Thompson said.
MacDonald said that Tracy Little League, which moved out of its longtime home at Jefferson School this year, was the closest to getting its fields built. The league and Odyssey Landscaping of Lodi are planning to have three of the league’s fields ready by April 2015, with 60-foot diamonds suitable for players up to the 11-12 age group. Two more 60-foot diamonds and two fields with 90-foot diamonds will come later.
Tracy Babe Ruth, also working with Odyssey Landscaping, has planned two of its five fields with 60-foot diamonds for a spring 2015 opening.
If the leagues do all of the work, the price tag for materials alone is more than $3.1 million for 12 baseball fields and eight soccer fields. Most of the council’s discussion, which lasted for more than 1½ hours Tuesday, focused on how the leagues could cuts costs.
Some of Tracy Little League’s projected costs — nearly $709,000 for five fields — could be reduced in the short term. For example, interim City Manager Maria Hurtado pointed to the estimated $50,000 for each backstop, suggesting that the league could set up the bare-minimum backstops needed to play this year and build the complete backstops later.
But MacDonald added that most of the rest of the cost was for irrigation lines and drains that go underneath the turf, and even with volunteer labor, those costs would be unavoidable.
“If you’re going to cut costs anywhere, don’t cut costs on the drainage, because it’s going to be a major impact on the turf,” he said. “If these leagues invest money on turf and irrigation and the drainage is poor, it’s going to add up and increase their costs in the long run.”
The $5 million option that the council considered would cover irrigation and drains on all 20 fields in the first phase, an average of $250,000 per field, and would include materials and labor.
“It’s definitely one of the more expensive costs and was the sticker shock that the leagues have seen when they finally sat down with us and saw some of the estimates,” MacDonald said.
Mayor Brent Ives said that the city’s labor policies would affect costs if the city hired a contractor to install irrigation lines and drains or finished the leagues’ shares of the project.
“As soon as we do that, I think what I understand is, everything that anyone does out there has to be prevailing wage, taking what looks like a $3.1 million set of minimal standard fields up to $25 million,” Ives said.
Councilman Robert Rickman countered that the possible new business a regional sports complex would attract, including new restaurants and patronage for local hotels, could justify the city’s expenses. He said Tracy competes with neighboring cities including Manteca, where the Big League Dreams sports park anchors a growing retail center.
“My fear is that Manteca is ahead of us. Once these businesses go over there, they won’t come here,” Rickman said.
Hiring a fundraising consultant, he said, provides no guarantee that teams will raise enough money to build their fields.
“What if we do nothing?” Rickman said. “We’re still sitting on a field with a gate around it and full of dirt and weeds and kids aren’t playing on it, and we’ve already spent $11.3 million dollars and it’s sitting there doing nothing. We owe it to our families to get it going.”
Ives said that he expected the first spark of activity from Tracy Little League to encourage the community to support the project.
“I think we need to be patient and help them where we can and re-evaluate in a couple years when we see their ability to perform,” Ives said, adding that Tracy Little League was moving forward as expected.
“They have stepped up and are doing their thing and are actually setting the tone for the other leagues to come along in getting active and raising funds. That’s their piece of the project. Our piece was getting it to this point so they could do just what they’re doing.”
Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com or 830-4227.