By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The Keizer Little League Park Long Range Planning Task Force met for the third time on Jan. 2. While the meeting was wide ranging, little tangible progress appeared to be made.
At the core of the continuing discussions regarding future management of the park and what it could or should become. When Mayor Cathy Clark asked attendees whether they were ready to discuss a new management structure – a third-party entity comprised of members of both Keizer Little League (KLL) and McNary Youth Baseball (MYB) alongside others representing the community-at-large – there was no dissent, but the resulting conversation never reached a decision point.
Off the bat, talk turned to other possible solutions, such as the managing organization leasing the park and reducing the city’s oversight.
KLL Vice President Lisa Buik seemed interested in the possibility, but wanted more information.
“The advantages to you is that you would have absolute and full control. The negative is that [the city] would have nothing to do with it,” said City Manager Chris Eppley. While the city council might be willing to enter into agreements to help maintain or improve the park, the managing organization would likely be expected to exhaust all other avenues of funding.
City Councilor-elect Dan Kohler returned to a more fundamental question of which activities should be the park’s primary focus.
While some at the meeting felt the park should continue to be focused on Keizer youth, others felt it could fulfill that mission while attracting outside tournaments.
“I think we can do both simultaneously,” said Brad Arnsmeier, KLL president.
“There is going to have to be more improvements to have quality tournaments,” countered MYB Vice President Bo Lane.
That drew a slight rebuke from Kohler.
“If we say we want the capital improvements, and to draw tournaments, I’m not sure that MYB or KLL is the organization to manage the complex,” Kohler said.
Clint Holland, who manages the concession stand on the property, said that the tournaments during the low-activity times of late July and August could help cover improvement costs.
“There’s a huge amount of people that use that complex in August, tournament teams, and we have softball teams that come in. We’re not looking at all the other groups,” Holland said.
Matt Lawyer, a member of the Keizer Parks Advisory Board, then suggested that having a third party manager of the complex could “optimize use during those months with a mission of funding a space for Keizer kids.”
Still, Lawyer asked what the representatives of KLL and MYB had come up with in private discussions.
To that, Arnsmeier responded that the organizations were still unclear on what was being asked of them.
He added that while the two groups wanted to maintain a focus on Keizer kids, there were differences regarding how the facilities should be maintained.
“Ryan [Walsh, president of MYB] is interested in dirt infields and I feel that the infields should be grass for baseball,” Arnsmeier said.
“[Walsh’s] philosophy behind that is generating income. We could make more money for softball fields that double as baseball fields,” countered Lane.
It was the first time, in a public setting, representatives of the leagues addressed the fundamental differences of opinion that complicate the notion of co-managing the park.
At that point, past disputes again reared their head with several members of the task force and some audience members claiming that coaches had told athletes and their parents not to frequent the concession stand when it was being run by the opposing organization.
Once those grievances had aired, Arnsmeier tried to turn the conversation back to the complex. Contrary to what some believe, said Arnmeier, it’s not organized, outside tournaments that require the most time and effort, it’s cleaning up after pick-up games, unscheduled practices and average users who aren’t aware of how to properly care for the fields.
“They don’t know not to wear cleats, or let a dog poop there,” said Buik.
Slot fees, and whether there would be a way to restructure league fees to include field usage and then subsidize those with fees collected from outside groups, was also briefly discussed. No consensus on that issue was reached either.
As the meeting wound down, Clark tasked MYB and KLL to continue talking about alternative forms of managing the complex.