Palm Coast government has made much of its quality sports fields’ magnet for tournaments that bring players, parents and coaches from out of town year-round–enough to generate about $6.8 million in local economic activity a year. But the fields’ popularity has also crimped the activities of local sports organizations, especially Palm Coast Little League and its 600-some participants, whose baseball and softball players have had to put in all their play, practice and tournament time on four fields.
“You can do the math, 600 kids on four fields, that’s not an easy number to figure out,” says William Warren, Palm Coast Little League vice president for softball.
The organization has been urging the city to reorganize its fields and add new ones. It was getting little cooperation from the city until more recent months, when a change in administration and a change in the ranks of the parks and recreation department’s leadership thawed the way to a new arrangement.
The Palm Coast City Council heard that proposal this morning: two of the 10 multi-purpose fields at the Indian Trails Sports Complex, generally sued for soccer and lacrosse, would be converted three softball and one baseball field over the next two years. There would be two fewer multi-purpose fields, and according to Lauren Johnston, the acting parks and recreation director, that could “impact” six of the 13 tournaments that regularly come to Palm Coast every year. Those tournaments may seek venues away from Palm Coast, because they ask for 10 contiguous fields. Palm Coast is prepared to offer fields elsewhere in the county, including fields the county’s parks and recreation department would make available. But that may not satisfy the tournament organizers.
For now, however, the proposal to accommodate Palm Coast Little League sees only this two-phased approach of converting existing fields to baseball and softball uses, because there are no plans, and no money, for adding net new fields. Not yet, anyway.
And nothing says that the new fields for Palm Coast Little League wouldn’t generate their own new activity. “Adding these baseball-softball fields would increase tournament play for baseball/softball,” Johnston said.
The city’s census of sports-field usage shows baseball and softball to be the sports that have by far the largest number of participants, at least through the city’s sports alliance members. The membership includes six local organizations (among them the Police Athletic League, Palm Coast Soccer and Palm Coast Little League) and two statewide tournament organizations. Year-round, participation in baseball or softball is at just over 1,000 individuals (some of whom may participate in both fall and spring), while soccer and flag football draws just over 500 each.
Johnston intends to revive what had become a moribund alliance and focus it on “marketing sporting events; sponsoring events and facilities; and creating opportunities to promote and expand sports, recreation and leisure programs for our local citizens,” according to her presentation to the council this morning. To press the point, Johnston made her presentation jointly with Heidi Petito, county government’s facilities director, a joint appearance that would have been unheard of in previous administrations, and that’s becoming more frequent under that of Matt Morton, the relatively new city manager (who himself was recently seen sitting alongside County Administrator Jerry Cameron during a county commission meeting.)
The council was at half capacity today, with both Mayor Milissa Holland and Council member Jack Howell absent. (Holland’s daughter, who has been very ill, has taken a critical turn, while Howell had a meeting with U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz. But Howell said by phone he was supportive of the Johnston plan. “We have to, because the kids are so plentiful,” he said. “It’s just one of those things, with growth.”) Council members who were present–Nick Klufas, Bob Cuff and Eddie Branquinho–voiced no objections to the plan. Klufas quipped of the importance of Palm Coast Little League “keeping those parents off the street.”
The four fields for Palm Coast Little League wouldn’t happen immediately. Phase One would provide two softball fields and two t-ball fields, with fencing, dugouts, bleachers and, if money is available, field lighting modifications. Phase one would begin construction this fall, and would keep the two multi-purpose fields off limits until next summer (the summer of 2020). The cost would be $370,000–$120,000 taken out of this year’s capital fund, the rest out of next year’s capital fund. That money is available, but the council still has to give its go-ahead for the plan.
Phase two would convert the two t-ball fields to a baseball field and a softball field. The date of that implementation has yet to be determined, and the money appropriated.
“I think it’s great, I think it’s in the best interest of the community,” Warren said of the plan. “It’s something that’s been long overdue.”