A$6 million expansion proposed for U.S. Cellular Community Park could add three new playing fields and boost Medford into the national competition for baseball and softball tournaments.
The park, which Medford parks officials say has generated an estimated $37 million for the local economy since it opened in 2008, now has 12 fields that have been a hit locally.
Parks officials say new fields at U.S. Cellular Community Park would allow for more games and attract new tournaments each season to Medford.
Event type Current capacity New capacity
Adult softball leagues 168 186
Youth baseball tournaments 48 72
Fast-pitch softball tournaments 48 72
Adult softball tournaments 60 90
U.S. Cellular Community Park facts
Source: Medford Parks and Recreation Department
"We didn't anticipate the breadth of enthusiasm and interest, just at the local level," said Rich Rosenthal, recreation superintendent for the Medford Parks and Recreation Department.
When the park opened, the Medford area had 213 baseball and softball teams, with that number jumping to 274 teams almost immediately. Rosenthal said that within four years, it had climbed to 394 teams.
With plans on the table for another three fields, Medford could hit a home run by attracting national-level tournaments that require more playing fields.
Portland is currently the only community in the state that has enough fields to attract the Amateur Softball Association and state girls' fast-pitch tournaments, according to information from the Parks and Recreation Department.
The Medford City Council will likely vote this summer on whether to approve raising fees to pay the estimated $461,300 annual cost of covering the 20-year revenue bonds.
On the table is a proposal to charge a car rental tax of 5 percent for all car rental agencies in Medford, which would raise an estimated $150,000 annually. Currently only car rental agencies at the Medford airport are subject to the tax.
The remainder would be paid through a 73-cent increase in a monthly park utility fee that all Medford households and businesses now pay. A $2.86 monthly fee for parks — the bulk of it for U.S. Cellular — already exists.
Rosenthal said the new fields could open in the summer of 2014 if the council approves the revenue plan. The estimated construction time would be nine to 12 months.
The new fields would be built in the northeast corner of the park, adjacent to Interstate 5, and would include a larger baseball field as well as two smaller softball and baseball fields.
An additional 150-space parking lot would be built for the three new fields.
Rosenthal said the new fields, like the existing fields, would have artificial turf and the intention is to have them lighted, both of which greatly increase the amount of time the fields can be used.
The additional three fields would complete the master plan for the park. Other projects that could be completed at a future date include an activity pavilion and a pedestrian bridge over Bear Creek.
Joe Brett, president of the Medford Parks Foundation Board, said the park has exceeded all expectations for him.
"Everything they told us about this economic engine has played out," he said.
He said he joined the board in 2000, and the first vote he took was to buy the former Heitkamp Ranch that was transformed into the park.
Former City Councilor Greg Jones, who also was formerly director of parks and recreation, said he expects local residents will rally in support of the park expansion, particularly after seeing the success of the existing fields.
"It would sure allow us to compete for larger tournaments," he said. "It would be a great benefit to the community."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email email@example.com.