Council interested in golf, plans for youth baseball at Sports Village on hold

VERO BEACH — The Vero Beach City Council, expressing interest in hearing a plan that could restore the historic 9-hole golf course at the Vero Beach Sports Village, has put Minor League Baseball’s plans for youth fields temporarily on hold.

The former Vero Beach City Council had approved moving forward with negotiations between the city and Indian River County officials for a lease swap of property that would have allowed a cloverleaf of youth-sized Little League and softball fields. The current council, however, has decided to hear out a potential lease-operator who might be able to rehabilitate the golf course. The council, though, did agree to continue negotiations with the county so as to have two proposals to compare.

The proposed youth fields would mean the loss of a portion of the golf course at the site, which was built by former Dodger owner Walter O’Malley for Jackie Robinson when he was banned from local golf courses because he was black.

“This needs to be put back in shape as a national park – a national monument,” Fletcher said, adding that Save the golf course should be listed with the National Registry of Historic Places.

Fletcher later added during the meeting that it would not matter to him if the golf course were rebuilt to its historic specifications or became a 6-hole golf course.

“It’s too damn an important historical site to be putting baseball fields or something on it,” he said.

Fletcher followed fellow Councilman Brian Heady’s lead, calling for the city to re-evaluate its options for the golf course.

Heady said that an individual with the backing of private investors had tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the former council to consider rehabilitating the course.

“It was put off and put off and put off,” Heady said. He told his fellow council members that by having a private group lease and operate the golf course, the site would be placed on the tax rolls and generate income for the city.

He also reminded the council that the city paid $10 million for the nearly 10-acre golf course, telling the citizens at that time that the city would work to bring the course back to life.

Minor League Baseball representative Craig Callan, manager of the Vero Beach Sports Village, has made presentations before both the Vero Beach City Council and the Indian River County Board of Commissioners pitching the idea of adding youth baseball fields to the village.

He has told both governing bodies that the success and financial viability of the Vero Beach Sports Village hinges on expanding its scope to include youth athletics, such as Little League and softball.

Heady, at Tuesday’s council meeting, questioned the validity of the claim.

He told the council that two years ago Minor League Baseball presented a plan it considered to be financially viable.

“Now all of sudden their financial plan is no longer any good?” Heady asked rhetorically.

No representatives from Minor League Baseball addressed the council during the meeting.

The issue of whether to have more ball fields or preserve the golf course is more complicated than originally estimated, according to Interim City Manager Monte Falls.

He explained to the council that the road widening project of Aviation Boulevard has forced the issue due to drainage requirements.

Planners have been designing the road project, which would be funded through a $5 million FDOT grant, with a retention pond on the Vero Beach Sports Village site, between a set of practice fields and the canal.

However, according to Falls, Minor League Baseball had planned to put its cloverleaf of youth fields on that site.

“That became problematic,” Falls said. The pond then forced the organization to look elsewhere to place the fields, leading officials to the golf course property.

Falls said that one alternative could be to move the pond to the Vero Beach Municipal Airport’s property along Aviation Boulevard – but that, too, poses challenges.

He explained that the design is nearly complete for the road project and to modify the plans for the airport-sited pond could cost approximately $65,000.

Also, the pond would eat into potential leasable space. At 2.3 acres, Falls estimated that could cost the city $35,000 annually in lost revenue.

Mayor Jay Kramer expressed concern about the potential for losing lease revenues if the pond were relocated to the airport. He said that he’d like to find out from staff what the costs would be if the city were to move in that direction.

“I don’t like saying ‘no’ unequivocally to somebody,” Kramer said. “I want to say ‘no, because of this.'”

While no vote was taken on the matter, the consensus was for staff to continue negotiating with the county regarding the possible land lease swap for the youth fields and to place the interested investor on the next City Council agenda.

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