TALENT — A youth baseball organizer has big plans for Chuck Roberts Park, but he wants the city to restructure its lease with the Phoenix-Talent Little League so that he can begin work this fall.
Matt Onofrei, chairman of South Valley Baseball, said his group is ready to raise $320,000 to rehabilitate four Little League fields in the park, add a 90-foot baseline field above the tennis courts, build an indoor facility for soccer on a parking lot by the railroad tracks and plant 120 trees.
Onofrei spoke before the City Council on Wednesday. He had talked previously with the city's Parks Commission. Supporters, opponents and others also testified.
Mayor Bill Cecil asked that Onofrei's group and the Little League get together to see whether they can devise a compromise and come back before the council.
"I'm against a hostile takeover," said Russ Schweikert, treasurer of the Phoenix-Talent Little League. "I would work with others, but I'm not sure it has to change hands. It's open to dialogue."
The league signed an agreement with the city in 2002 that runs until 2025 covering use and maintenance of the fields. Kiwanis clubs built the facilities on the upper part of the 12-acre park that is located on Rogue River Parkway and Talent Avenue.
Onofrei is a former NCAA college coach who helped develop sports centers in Roseburg and Nampa, Idaho. He hopes to hold baseball and soccer tournaments if the site is developed.
Onofrei organized the South Valley Cal Ripken League after he perceived "turmoil with Little League," he said during an interview before the meeting. In the past two months, South Valley Baseball formed and will include Cal Ripken, Babe Ruth and softball divisions.
The Little League has lost almost 60 kids, said Colleen Christensen, vice president of South Valley Cal Ripken. Schweikert acknowledged the group has lost players and said it is working to address the problem. He attributed the loss to other sports options.
Onofrei would like to begin work this October to rehabilitate the four fields. He envisions a three-year time span for the entire project and said a fundraising campaign, grants and donations of labor and materials would finance the effort.
"He's saying let's hurry up. I'm saying let's slow down," said Planning Commissioner Darby Stricker.
Stricker last week was appointed by Cecil to facilitate revision of the city's Parks Master Plan with the Parks Commission. Revisions to the plan to accommodate Onofrei's proposal would need to be made.
A nearby resident said she's not eager to see more use at the fields.
"The people in our neighborhood are concerned about the amount of outside people it would bring in," said Shawn Treen, who lives on Arnos Street right behind the park. She said noise pollution and trash are problems with the current level of use.
A ballfield area owned by the Phoenix-Talent School District off Colver Road might be a better site for the development, Cecil suggested. The area is not in city limits, but is designated as an urban reserve for potential growth.
A first public meeting for South Valley Baseball is planned at 6 p.m. Aug. 2 at a location to be announced Contacts are email@example.com or 541-603-0787. Information can also be found on Facebook.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.