NEWBERRY – Local residents and Newberry city commissioners heard a sampling of improvements in store for Newberry’s newly opened Nations Park. The commission held a July 9 workshop with Nations Park’s architect, manager, the city’s recreation director, and legal department to review contract obligations and discuss future options.
Architect Paul Stressing talked about the current and future renovations that will contribute to giving Nations fields the feel of a championship stadium, such as lowering the walls to 3 or 4 feet and expanding the seating area. The plan is to open not only the parent seating area and install fans there, but also open up from the foul line to the infield.
Nations has opened up its fields to softball players in order to start to utilize the off-season months, and after trial and error, has discovered how to convert the baseball pitching mound for softball.
While no violations regarding the park’s operation and contracts currently exist, some important clarifications were discussed.
There has been some concern that the park has been slow to attract teams to fill tournament dates. Richard Blalock, Newberry recreation director said the park has a ramp-up period that will last until December 2014. During this time, the contract stipulates that Nations will show a good faith effort to start getting tournaments and teams locked in he said.
The contract requires 12 week-long tournaments, meaning that tournaments must run for at least three consecutive days, Blalock said.
Also, tournaments are described as consisting of a minimum of 40 teams with the objective of drawing in around a minimum of 400 to 500 persons to the park to stimulate the local economy.
Considering Newberry is not considered a vacation destination, the Nations team is putting together a tournament package with Disney that would include incentives such as discounts. Options under consideration include the scheduling of events, which may change to coincide with other activities. Ending tournaments on a Wednesday would give traveling families the rest of the week and weekend to venture to Orlando.
One good faith effort the Nations team has made is dropping the tournament entry fee to around $500. Another incentive available for teams by next summer is the waiving of entry fees if the team brings an umpire.
Every effort is being made to get teams, because once that happens Nations will be in full swing with the Columbus Day Classic, Halloween Bash and September Slugfest tournaments, according to Newberry officials.
“If everything works the way we want in the fall, basically there will be activity for about eight straight weekends,” Blalock said.
Commissioner Joe Hoffman discussed the concept of an organization that would connect Nations Park and the Easton Sports Complex with the larger sports industry to assist in marketing and arranging events. For example, Nations would have the first look at schedules of events to ensure optimum opportunities to bring in events and create the associated jobs.
Another plan to enhance the park’s exposure is a fall ball travel league. Nations will market coast to coast to attract teams from cities such as Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando and Daytona. By booking teams from different regions, the competing teams won’t play the same opponents from their own backyards over and over again.
“We address the issues, and move forward to examine all possibilities, which is what we will have to do for the next 12 to 24 months,” said Blalock.
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