The Janesville Youth Baseball & Softball Association hopes to take over operation of Dawson Ball Fields, and city officials seem to be on board.
The association’s proposal is to pay the city $1 annually for five years to lease the fields. The proposal is contingent on the city rehabilitating the fields, according to the proposal.
“All things being equal, no matter where you are, demand to play at a given field is directly proportional to the perceived quality of the field,” the proposal reads.
In return, the association would maintain and possibly expand the city’s softball and kickball leagues and use the fields for association activities when available.
The Janesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee heard Tuesday from association secretary Duffy Dillon and asked questions about the proposal. The committee didn’t make a recommendation to the council whether to accept the proposal but will in January, said Jennifer Petruzzello, neighborhood and community services director.
Still, committee members expressed excitement with the association’s proposal. One called it a “no-brainer.”
Janesville budgeted $65,000 to operate the fields in 2017 but made only $33,000 in revenue. Concessions brought in another $6,000, and $26,000 from the general fund paid the rest, Petruzzello has said.
It’s not unusual for the fields to operate at about a $30,000 annual loss. It’s what prompted the idea to lease the fields, officials have said.
As for the association, it operates 10 baseball and softball diamonds at the Youth Sports Complex on Janesville’s east side. Those diamonds see nearly constant use and would benefit from time off, prompting some of the association’s interest in Dawson Ball Fields.
“From a ‘best practices’ perspective, our fields are used too heavily and would benefit from periodic ‘no play’ breaks to recover and regenerate during the season,” the proposal reads. “We knowingly deviate from best practices and allow the fields to be used as much as possible because our mission to maximize kids’ opportunities to play is always our first priority.”
Under the association’s proposal, any “profits” it makes at Dawson would go toward maintenance or improvements there, according to the proposal.
“This approach will immediately end the losses the city is currently experiencing with respect to the operation of Dawson,” the proposal reads. “And, although this approach will not result in any cash payments directly to the city, the reinvestment of the ‘profits’ into Dawson will be to the city’s benefit …”
Under the association’s proposal, city adult softball and kickball leagues would remain and possibly expand as the fields get more use and attention.
“If demand increases to the point that the facility must be operated for adult programming seven days per week, leaving no room for youth programming, that will be fine with us,” the proposal reads.
When not being used for city programs, the association could use the fields for early-season practices, free clinics or tournaments, all of which could generate concession stand revenue.
The association’s mission is to reach as many kids as possible. Most of the association’s participants come from Janesville’s north and east sides. Almost none come from the Fourth Ward or the south side.
“These trends are of great concern to us because we believe every child would benefit from participating in our programs,” the proposal reads.
As a result, the association wants to host free play days at Dawson when possible to attract those kids.
“Because our existing fields are not often available for pickup games, and because we firmly believe that pickup games are an important way for kids to have fun and develop interest in playing baseball and softball more often, we think a regular ‘free play’ offering would draw significant interest from the community and wind up promoting interest in baseball and softball at both the youth and adult levels,” the proposal reads.
If approved to lease the fields, the association hopes the city will replace the fields’ scoreboards with new ones featuring wireless controls. If that happened, the association would discontinue paid scorekeepers and have umpires or team representatives keep scores wirelessly, according to the proposal.
The association was the only party to submit a proposal to the city’s October request for proposals.
The association and the city have a history of partnership. In 2008, they teamed up to build eight new baseball and softball fields at the complex. The city contributed $1.2 million of infrastructure improvements, and the association raised $1.5 million to complete it, according to the proposal.
The city early this year issued a request for proposals to lease Dawson Ball Fields. The association and Brooks Graff Baseball of Lake Mills both submitted proposals, but the committee in March recommended the city not yet lease the fields and instead improve the facility first.
The city has since made minor field improvements, renovated restrooms, and replaced signs and the concession stand roof. Early next year, the city will regrade the fields, plant more grass and improve lighting, Petruzzello has said.
The city council will make the final decision on the lease, likely in early February. If the city does lease Dawson Ball Fields, the association wouldn’t take over until after the 2018 season, Petruzzello has said.