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By all appearances, construction on Newberry’s Nations Park baseball complex is complete.  However, the grand opening event has been rescheduled to next April to allow for improvements to fencing and landscaping and increased airflow through the spectator facility, which may also see additional bleachers.

NEWBERRY – Construction on Newberry’s Nations Park baseball complex is currently under budget with a few loose ends to tie up, said City Manager Keith Ashby. These loose ends have postponed the planned November grand opening after feedback about the complex revealed some modifications and improvements were in order.

Updated plans call for Nations Park baseball complex to open with an April ceremony that consists of two week-long tournaments over the Easter holiday.

“Nations Park is the best park in the country right now,” said Lou Presutti, who administrates the park’s streamlining. “It’s state of the art.” The park is modeled after New York’s Cooperstown Dreams Park that he founded. The hope is that Nations will also draw crowds from around the country for its youth baseball program.

Teams and the public that attended the test tournament at Nations Baseball praised the fields and the playing conditions, but there a number of comments that the spectator area needs upgrades.

“We just have to tweak these little things to make it even nicer,” Presutti said about the ongoing construction.

“People are really excited about all of it,” he said.

“The Internet site dedicated to marketing the park gets over 100,000 hits a month.

“The park is going to be something very special for this country,” Presutti said.

Presutti is “operating the park on behalf of the city,” Ashby said, “It’s a national venture and the first of its kind outside of Dreams Park.”

Significant improvements will be made to ensure more airflow through the spectator facility. “It’s hot as a pistol in there,” Ashby said. Improvements will include cutting down the back wall to waist level height, creating a back entrance to help with space and movement, and installing ceiling fans. And possibly, three new bleachers will be added to one of the outfields.

Aesthetics are also a concern, so new fencing for the front of the complex will be built along 30th Avenue, and Nations Baseball representatives are reviewing an upgraded landscaping package. Spaces will be added to the parking lot as well. The final completion contract for the construction is pending and is expecting to be wrapped up soon. Once construction is finished, the complex’s final certificate of occupancy can be issued.

Ashby says that Presutti’s requests are reasonable and that the delay is acceptable considering feedback about the facility. He said if any further requests were made, the park opening would not be delayed.

“Everyone is very happy about it,” Ashby said.

Edifice Inc. is the contractor of the facility that is anticipated to attract 1,600 teams, generate 23,000 room nights annually and boost the economy by a projected $1.3 million. The now postponed November ribbon cutting ceremony was originally to be carried out in the summer after a test tournament to try out the facility in June.

The groundbreaking for the $7 million dollar project was held in March 2011, and by April, it was said to 85 percent complete. The construction of the 16-field park located on Southwest 30th Avenue and Sate Road 41, an 80-acre-site, encountered delays due to disturbance of a turtle species and sinkholes at the location.

The baseball complex, hailed as a national tourist attraction and a beacon for new business ventures, is funded by the Alachua County Tourism Development Tax, which appropriates its revenue from taxes on the county’s hotels.

“The City of Newberry remains committed to Nations Baseball’s Lou Presutti,” Mayor Bill Conrad said.  “He knows what he’s doing with youth baseball. We have run into a few glitches in the start up, which is to be expected with a new operation. We have high hopes for this spring and this summer.” The mayor will host the governor and some other VIPs for the opening ceremony.

Newberry has high stakes in the park, and the goal is to run it 20 weeks out of the year, Conrad said. With the focus on 11-years-and-under teams, the fields are 200 feet in length. This means that the park will only run about 14 to 16 weeks out of the year, to coincide with school terms. The City is looking to using the fields for women’s softball in the weeks the park isn’t running youth teams, which also has a regulation field length of 200 ft.

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