by Tim Hennagir
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) will fund half a Blaine youth baseball complex feasibility study.
The National Sports Center (NSC) youth baseball complex task force reviewed a $75,000 signed contract from the state agency at a June 22 meeting.
Blaine and Anoka County representatives joined staff and board members from Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC) and the National Sports Center Foundation (NSCF) for a fourth time last Wednesday.
The mid-day meeting was held at the Anoka County Government Center.
Kevin Smith, the Twins’ public affairs and community fund executive director, also attended the 45-minute meeting along with Anoka County Board Commissioners Robyn West, Carol LeDoux and Matt Look.
The task force reviewed a draft request for proposals (RFP) for firms to complete the $150,000 feasibility study and learned about similar projects nationwide.
Paul Erickson, MASC executive director, and Mark Erickson, the NSC’s research analyst, provided background about four planned or existing youth complexes: Woodside Sports Complex, Mauston, Wis.,; America’s Park, Moorsville, N.C.; Dream Parks, Emerson, Ga.; and New York state’s Cooperstown Dream Park.
Mark Erickson told the task force the Mauston complex is scheduled to open next spring and will have 16 artificial turf fields for baseball and softball.
“They want to have on-site cabins sort of like Cooperstown, where the kids stay right on site in dorm rooms. Adults would have to get hotel rooms,” he said.
Paul Erickson said preliminary plans for the NSC youth baseball complex would have tournament visitors staying at area hotels around the north metro.
“During summer weekends, they may have issues with getting hotel rooms around the Wisconsin Dells,” Mark Erickson said, referring to Mauston’s proximity to the tourism attraction.
America’s Park in Mooreville will be a $20 million, 25-field complex built on 170 acres. The facility will feature 60 cabins, a dining hall and concession stands.
“This one has broken ground and is expected to open next spring,” Mark Erickson said, adding one partner in that complex project also operates Cooperstown Dream Park.
Dream Parks in Emerson, Ga., will be located north of Atlanta.
The 16-field baseball complex will include some soccer fields and was originally proposed as a large retail and hotel development.
Shaw Sportexe, a North American synthetic turf company, will move to the complex and use it to showcase its products, Mark Erickson told the task force.
“Dream Parks has also signed up a baseball scouting service from Iowa that will relocate,” Mark Erickson said, adding the facility is schedule to open in 2013.
Cooperstown is currently the largest youth complex similar to what’s proposed in Blaine. The facility has 22 fields and a field named Little Majors Stadium.
“When you dig deep into news stories written about these facilities, it’s clear youth baseball has become an economic development tool that’s supported by cities, counties and chambers of commerce,” Paul Erickson said. “They are investing millions of dollars to support this type of activity, which they see as an asset.”
According to Erickson, the NSC’s one key advantage over the four previously mentioned youth baseball projects is $100 million in existing site infrastructure.
MASC Chairman Duane Arens added: “We have a full-time staff of about 70; they have staffs of about 20 people year around.”
As the MASC’s executive director, Erickson said he’s never been involved with a project that’s had such a positive response in raising feasibility study funds.
“We have another $25,000 of verbal financial commitments [for the study],” Erickson said. “From additional feedback I’ve received, we can publish and RFP in full confidence July 1, because we’ll have the money we need in hand for later study payments this summer and fall.”
According to Erickson, the proposed youth baseball complex in Blaine has generated enough publicity to attract preliminary interest from four companies.
Two of those companies – Baltimore-based Ripken Design ($88,500) and AECOM Technical Services in Minneapolis ($138,000) prepared preliminary proposals for the NSC youth baseball feasibility study.
“Neither hits all items we have in our RFP, but I thought it was important for you to see what type of companies are out there,” Erickson told the task force.
According to Erickson, it was important for all five parties sitting at the table (Blaine, Anoka County, the Twins, the MASC and the NSC) to feel that their questions would be answered by issuance of the RFP.
“We want to make sure this can operate in the black, so it’s not an operational burden,” he added.
The NSC complex would serve girls’ softball programs. The facility will be designed so both activities can occur successfully, Erickson told the task force.
“The one thing that separates the NSC is that we purposely program girls events, even more so than boys events,” he said. “Soccer is 55 percent female. We run the biggest girls’ hockey tournaments in the country. It’s consistent with our mission to make sure this proposed facility serves girls and boys equally.”
LaDoux suggested the study include lodging impact. “That can be big stumbling block,” she said, referring to past national softball tournament travels with her daughter.
Erickson said it was the task force’s intent to publish the RFP July 1. A firm selection committee would meet in advance of an Aug. 3 task force meeting.
“We would like to have the RFP define opportunities to reduce costs by in-kind service contributions” said Blaine City Manager Clark Arneson.
Mayor Tom Ryan said the Blaine Economic Development Authority would need to have a say in any proposed project, and Steve Novak, Anoka County’s division manager of government services, said the task force needed to sell the project around the idea of creating jobs in capital construction and operating services.
“You need to develop an RFP with an eye toward marketing,” he said. “You need a focal point to create a little buzz. I think a mini Target Field will do that.”
Novak was referring to a showcase baseball complex stadium of undetermined size or capacity that would be located on soccer fields B1 and B2 at the NSC.
Smith said baseball great Paul Molitor was over in Wisconsin doing youth training at the same time the task force was meeting.
During his 21-year baseball career, Molitor played for the Milwaukee Brewers (1978–92), Toronto Blue Jays (1993–95) and Minnesota Twins (1996–98).
“I just wish the late Harmon Killebrew was at this meeting,” Smith said. “He would make sure we got this done. We have to remember Harmon in our hearts. He would love this project.”
Tim Hennagir is at