Proposal made for improved baseball, softball facilities

12 June 2018

It’s an ambitious project to be sure, but one whose time has come according to Byron Tomlins and other members of Salina Athletic Partners.

Tomlins, a Salina chiropractor and former general manager of Salina Baseball Enterprises, gave a 30-minute presentation to the Salina City Commission and city staff during a study session Monday afternoon at the City County Building.

The presentation itself laid out a plan that would make considerable improvements to existing baseball and softball facilities in Salina, and also add a new premier baseball stadium at the East Crawford Recreation Area, north of Dean Evans Stadium.

“Being involved with baseball for so many years and remembering how everyone was so proud of Dean Evans Stadium when it was built in the 80s, we just felt like now is the time,” said Tomlins, chairman of Salina Athletic Partners. “We have dropped a little bit and are concerned about making Dean Evans not only an iconic stadium, but adding more and getting softball involved and getting the best facilities for Salina.

“We want our town to be at the top. This is the time now because we just don’t feel like we can afford to drop any further in the quality of our facilities.”

The plan itself includes three phases with a total estimated price tag of $8 million. Half of that total would be raised by SAP through private donations and facility naming rights, with a request for the city to cover the remaining $4 million.

No decisions were made at Monday’s meeting and the city commission would have to take up the matter at a regularly scheduled meeting before voting on whether to proceed.

“The city controls, as we know, the decision-making process,” Tomlins said. “We can’t do this without the city. They have got to come forward with us and we look forward to being partners with them.”

Phase I of the plan would include extensive improvements to Evans Stadium, where artificial turf would be installed in both the infield and outfield. It would also involve putting turf on the infield of four softball/youth baseball fields at Bill Burke Memorial Park and improving restroom and concession areas at that facility.

Also in Phase 1, where the estimated cost is $2.7 million, would be improvements to James Matson Field at ECRA, the addition of covered batting cages at both ECRA and Bill Burke, and the construction of a new restroom facility at the north end of Bill Burke Park.

Phase II, with an estimated price tag of $3.6 million, would focus on the construction of the new baseball stadium north of Evans Stadium and two premier softball/youth baseball stadiums at ECRA, with turf on both the infield and outfield of all three stadiums.

The new baseball facility would be on the site currently occupied by Wilbur Field. Tomlins said the practice field at the south end of ECRA near the water tower would be renamed Wilbur Field. The two turfed softball/youth baseball fields would replace current ECRA fields 3 & 4.

Phase III would focus primarily on Bill Burke Park, including the construction of two new softball fields, an additional parking lot and upgrades to existing fields. It would also include umpire dressing rooms at ECRA.

“I’m not opposed to anything in the plan,” said Chris Cotten, director of Salina Parks and Recreation. “It dovetails very closely to what (recreation supervisor Travis Scheele) and I have talked about doing and what we’re working on (in the parks master plan). Obviously this is a project of much greater financial scale than Travis and I have been able to work on.

“There’s nothing unsound with their plan. It’s just a matter of how we cover it.”

The presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session, where commissioners not only sought clarification on several aspects of the plan, but also took time to compliment Tomlins and SAP for their efforts in putting together the extensive proposal.

“I felt real positive,” Tomlins said. “We got some very good feedback with the commissioners. City staff has been very supportive in our previous meetings, including the recreation commission and Chris and his staff.

“I think it’s just a matter of if we can fit the economic pieces together. We all know there is going to be hurdles and challenges, but we’ve got to go forward and try this. We can’t just say ‘Let’s not do this because we’re scared of the hurdles.’ Lets just find a way to get this done.”

Most of the questions coming from commissioners revolved around the financial aspects of the project. They included a request for a more detailed budget on the plan, and clarifications on how SAP plans to assist with the cost of replacement turf when the need arises.

“They’ve asked us to give them some budgetary information and I think a lot of their thoughts will be determined on the information we follow up with for them,” Tomlins said. “We will get that information to them immediately because we have prepared for this day.”

The presentation also contained some preliminary figures on the possible financial impact the improvements and additions might have on the city of Salina, including visiting teams and fans spending money on meals, lodging, fuel, shopping and entertainment in Salina.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association has held state baseball and softball tournaments in Salina for 23 consecutive years. During the presentation, Tomlins noted that there has been concern the KSHSAA may move those tournaments out of Salina without improvements to the facilities.

“I know for a fact from my time in Joplin that we had a baseball tournament that brought in $1.5 million in economic impact for that one event,” Cotten said. “That took five baseball stadiums and we don’t have five stadiums, but looking at their plan, if we made a few more changes to what is currently Tower Field and Matson, we might be able to bid on that event.

“But I am not opposed to anything they are wanting to do. I think it’s all great. It’s just a matter of how we would fund it and take care of it.”

A similar fundraising campaign took place in the late 1980s when Evans Stadium was built in a partnership with the city. Tomlins admits the figure of $4 million seems daunting, but believes he has the support to reach that number.

“Considering we raised $880,000 for Dean Evans Stadium, you look at this and take a deep breath,” Tomlins said. “Before we even started I talked to many financial people in Salina — people that know fundraising a lot better than I.

“We’ve discussed it and I’ve asked the opinion of many fundraisers in town and I am confident we can do it. We have a lot of access to national links, state links and local links and we’re going to need to use them all. We’re again not afraid to ask members of our community to step up and support the project, which they’ve always done in the past. Salina has been awesome in that aspect.”

Salina mayor Karl Ryan made a similar comment after asking Tomlins how many Kansas communities use private funds in the construction of their athletic facilities.

The presentation included a list of 14 cities in Kansas that currently have turfed baseball and/or softball fields, many of them communities considerably smaller than Salina.

“It’s interesting to me that we take this route here in Salina and that’s to a great advantage to the taxpayers and the community,” Ryan said as he wrapped up the meeting.