(Source: AzCentral): Lily Altavena – Gilbert may operate the former site of Big League Dreams itself as the town remains knee-deep in litigation with the former operator.
The proposal is for the town to operate the eight lighted ballparks and indoor soccer pavilion at Elliot District Park, near Power and Elliot roads, and contract with an operator to oversee concessions.
The Gilbert Town Council stepped in that direction June 21 and will discuss plans further in August. The council also approved $2.6 million more for repairs on the park it abruptly shuttered over safety concerns nearly a year ago. Big League Dreams, a national company, sharply rebuked the town’s move to close the park, with staff claiming there were no safety concerns.
Gilbert hopes to reopen the park by February.
The Parks and Recreation Department constantly hears requests for more youth sports fields, department Director Robert Carmona said.
The New Elliot District Park
The annual budget for the town to operate and maintain the park would be $1.5 million, Carmona said, but would go down in subsequent years without the startup costs.
But Councilman Victor Petersen wasn’t sold on so many employees, saying the proposal is about double the number of employees for a typical Gilbert facility, he said.
“I’m starting to think this is kind of parks and rec on steroids for me,” he said.
The park’s former operator used 85 employees to run the facility, Mayor Jenn Daniels said.
The council approved hiring two positions and to further discuss operating options in August.
Costs for repairs
The council approved about $2.6 million in additional money to finance maintenance and repairs to reopen the park, bringing the total spent on these repairs to $10.6 million. The first phase of repairs cost $1.6 million in 2014.
This new set of repairs is to address what the city calls “general maintenance deficiencies.”
Repair costs are recouped from a $13.5 million settlement awarded to Gilbert in 2015 after the town sued the ballpark’s builder M.A. Mortenson for shoddy construction.
Council member Jared Taylor expressed hesitation about the cost of the repairs, raising the possibility of selling the facility during Thursday’s meeting.
“We’re all frustrated with this, it’s just a slippery slope and it just never ends, it’s just millions and millions down the tube here,” he said. “Selling it is also still a possibility in my mind … let somebody else invest in it and improve it.”
The town spent $42.7 million to open Big League Dreams in 2008 and pays $3.7 million annually on its debt.
Other cities around the Valley also plan to spend millions on new or updated parks, including:
- Avondale is spending $12 million to upgrade two of its parks, adding new amenities like a lake, dog park, splash pad, ramadas and volleyball, pickleball and basketball courts.
- Tolleson is spending $11.5 million to build a new city plaza to raise the city’s profile.
- Tempe is spending $5.8 million to upgrade several of its parks.
- The cost of upgrades to parks in Chandler range from hundreds of thousands to $18 million.
Gilbert also is spending more than $100 million total on two new massive parks: Gilbert Regional Park and Rittenhouse District Park.
Costs mount as litigation continues
Gilbert has spent$250,000 on litigation costsin its nearly one-year legal battle with Big League Dreams.
The former operator claims the company lost money when the town closed the facility in July, to the tune of $10 million. Gilbert says Big League Dreams’ design and the company’s supposedly shoddy maintenance led to $4 million in necessary repairs.
Both parties have sparred over details, such as whether Big League Dreams was involved with the ballpark’s design. Gilbert’s attorneys said Big League Dreams “imposed” a design concept on the town that caused some of the park’s problems.
Robert Grasso, the lawyer representing the town, said the parties are waiting on a scheduling order that will guide the case through trial. He expects parties to name expert witnesses early in 2019.
In other words, the battle is expected to be drawn out.