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Citizens tell council to sell Calfee

crowdBy MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

 

“Git er done,” was the final word to Pulaski Town Council Tuesday night during a community meeting to discuss the possible sale of Calfee Park to Shelor Motor Mile.

A little over 100 people attended the meeting and while most didn’t speak or ask questions, it was clear from applause that the majority favored the sale. No action was taken Tuesday, but it is anticipated a required public hearing may be scheduled as soon as early September.

At issue is the need for an estimated $500,000 in improvements at the historic ballpark and the fact Pulaski Baseball Inc. is transferring ownership of the baseball franchise to Shelor.

Town Manager Shawn Utt said the future of Minor League Baseball (MiLB) in Pulaski is contingent upon some of the improvements, including upgrading locker rooms for the visiting team and umpires, and corrections to some safety issues.

Another factor that threatens the town’s ability to retain a minor league team is the fact there is nowhere in town for the players to live during the season. Currently, the team is being bused back and forth between Calfee and Wytheville.

Utt said the purpose of the meeting was for Shelor co-owner David Hagan to present the company’s “worthwhile proposal” so town council could get feedback from the citizens “because it’s your park.”

Hagan said Shelor employee Blair Hoke would serve as general manager. Pulaski Baseball Inc. partner Wayne Carpenter said that would provide more stability to the program since there has been a change in general manager each year.

“Some (general managers) have been very successful and moved on, but they’re rookies when we get them and we have to train them,” said Carpenter. He urged citizens to express support for the sale of Calfee to Shelor.

Carpenter said the Appalachian League and franchise teams want the minor league experience for players to “mirror the major league experience. If you want to keep baseball here and you have a group who is willing to” make Calfee the shining star of the league, this is the chance to do it.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Carpenter, who thanked the town citizens, town government and baseball fans for their support over the 25 years Pulaski Baseball Inc. has run MiLB in town.

“But the vision and future (of Pulaski baseball) sits here in this room tonight and I urge everyone to support it,” Carpenter concluded.

Hagan said he recently had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Seattle Mariners and he’s not sure whether the team will agree to return to Pulaski, but another team will be sought if not.

He said the Mariners are “frustrated” that “$4 million worth of players” are being shuttled between Pulaski and Wytheville because of a lack of local housing for the team. Although the Mariners were supposed to have informed Hagan Friday whether they would be returning, he said he hasn’t heard a response.

“We’ll have to go to the Appalachian League to get a team” if the Mariners pull out, he told the crowd. To have the league’s support for another team, he added, the Calfee improvements must get underway soon.

Hagan assured citizens the name of the park will not be changed. He offered three possible names for the baseball program: Historic Calfee Park LLC, Calfee Park Baseball or Friends of Calfee Park Inc. (a nonprofit organization with a board of directors and advisory board that would include members of the community.

Asked whether there is any way for Shelor to lease the park instead of buying it, Hagan said he can’t borrow the $2-$3 million he intends to invest in the community if he doesn’t own the property.

Under Shelor’s proposal, the company would pay the town $100,000 for the park and then take on the estimated $500,000 in park improvements. Asked what cost there would be to the town, Utt and Hagan said “none.”

Should Shelor ever decide to sale the park, the town will have first refusal to repurchase. The repurchase price would be $100,000, plus the cost of improvements (minus depreciation).

Hagan outlined the company’s planned improvements:

•Tearing down the old clubhouse and other buildings at the front of the park so that parking can be expanded toward the outfield. A net would be installed to prevent balls knocked out of the park from damaging vehicles. This would add about 80-90 additional parking spaces.

•Building the visitors and umpire locker rooms in the area where the home team’s locker room is now.

•Moving the press box back toward the embankment and building a new air-conditioned VIP tower and press box.

•Adding about 10 more of the current patio-type boxes currently located along the first base line.

•Improving and increasing handicap seating and accessibility.

•Adding seats under the covered area, but retaining space without seats for those who choose to bring their lawn chairs.

•Improving and adding more restrooms (some air conditioned).

•Installing a “kids area” with an attendant monitored playground like currently exists at Motor Mile Speedway in Fairlawn. Parents would be able to leave a telephone number with the attendant, who would watch the children while the parents enjoy the game.

•Installation of a jumbotron video screen at some point.

•Adding bathrooms and concessions along the third base line for convenience of those who are seated on that side of the park.

•Proving player housing. Even though the deal to purchase Calfee hasn’t been approved, Hagan said he has already started purchasing property in town to building housing and expand parking at the park. He has purchased the former warehouse building adjacent to Pulaski Municipal Building to build an “extended stay” hotel for the players if the deal is completed.

•Holding additional events at the park outside of baseball season. Hagan said the town will reserve the right to use the park for events such as Safe Haven Guns-N-Hoses and the annual Ferrum College/Emory & Henry baseball game.

Hagan said Shelor will involve area schools in the baseball program just as it does at the speedway. He noted this will draw children and their parents to Pulaski for games.

With the park being under private ownership, Hagan pointed out it will be contributing taxes to the tax base for the first time (about $250,000). Plus, there will still be a revenue sharing agreement with the town.

As for admission and concession prices, Hagan said they will not go up. However, the price of boxes will increase out of necessity.

Hagan said he has heard some people express concerns Shelor will move baseball out of Pulaski. He said that will not happen since he will be investing $2-$3 million in the community.

However, if the town decides not to sell the park and requires Shelor to do two-year leases, he cannot promise to keep baseball in town. He explained that he would have to move it somewhere else if the town isn’t able to maintain the park to minor league and Appalachian League standards because Shelor would be running the risk of losing the team.

Hagan pointed out Shelor already has the marketing skills needed to promote baseball in Pulaski. He noted they have plans to “hype” promotions for the first 24 months to bring people to the games. Average attendance currently is around 700 people per game. Shelor hopes to be able to get attendance to 1,500, which would be number one in the Appalachian League.

With parking at a premium now, Hagan said Shelor is under contract to purchase some property on Pierce Avenue for parking expansion. “We’ll do anything we can to create more parking and handicap access even if it means going off-site and running shuttles,” he said.

Several citizens thanked Shelor for investing in the community.

One citizen asked town council members for feedback on their opinions of the offer. Councilman Jamie Radcliffe offered an answer. He said what Shelor can offer the baseball program is beyond what the town’s taxpayers can afford, so he is supportive of the plan. “What we want to do is play baseball,” he added.

An area businessman vouched for Shelor, calling the owners “professional and honorable gentlemen.” He said he applauds the investments they already have made and he encourages town council to move forward with the sale.

His comments brought applause from the audience.

Hagan said he doesn’t see how Shelor’s proposal could be bad for the town.

The primary concerns were expressed by former town councilman Morgan Welker. He questioned whether the Shelor’s couldn’t settle for a long-term lease of the park and spread out improvements over the years so the town could afford to make them. He also urged council to “judiciously review” the contracts to make sure the “historic jewel” isn’t lost.

Being a neighbor of the park, Welker also questioned the need for a jumbotron. He said it would impact the neighborhood and wouldn’t fit in with the historic character of the park.

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