A 2013 plan for a Fredericktown sports complex has seen renewed interest from city and county officials after residents attended a March 27 Fredericktown City Council meeting to express the community’s need for such a facility.
In the meeting, local parent April Sarakas spoke on behalf of the sports complex proponents, saying there will be 69 teams and more than 800 athletes vying for practice space this season.
The project got its start when former Fredericktown City Administrator Greg Stratman asked Mayor Kelly Korokis what she would like to see the city accomplish.
Korokis said she had experienced the strain of trying to find fields for teams to practice on when her children were playing, so she was well aware of the need in the community.
“I have four kids,” Korokis said. “My daughter played softball, my boys played baseball. They played both town league and travelling league. When they got older, one of them played men’s league. And my daughter played women’s league.”
“So I knew that there was that need,” Korokis said. “And then as the town leagues began to grow, we were struggling to compromise on who used what field at what time and who got first dibs and all that. So it started way back, before I was mayor.”
Dave Ward, owner of Ward’s Farm Center in Fredericktown, said he’s one of the many parents who have had issues with a lack of practice space in town.
“That’s our biggest problem,” Ward said. “Trying to find a place to practice in the spring. When it comes to games, we just try to make it work. We have to.”
Ward has been on the City of Fredericktown Parks Board for years, and said he’s been involved with efforts to improve public parks in that time.
“It’s more of a necessity than just something people want,” Ward said. “We need some ball fields to play on. Period.”
Ward said the need for more ball fields may not be immediately evident to those not directly involved in baseball, t-ball or softball, but that when many parents get involved and start coaching a team, they quickly realize the lack of space.
“People just realize that we don’t have anything, compared to the number of our teams,” Ward said.
Korokis said when the project was first planned in 2013, the city created a proposal and sent it to the Madison County Commission. The commissioners agreed to contribute $1 million in TIF funds to the project, with the city being responsible for the remaining cost.
In the four years since first being proposed, the project has stalled because of disagreements between city and county officials on the details of the project cost as well as difficulties faced by the city in securing its share of funds for the project. Korokis said there needs to be a balance between cutting cost and constructing a good facility.
“If you’re wanting to build something nice, you can’t cut corners,” Korokis said. “And one thing we don’t really want to cut back on is the lighting because lighting is one of the most important things you have. You’ve got to have good lighting. That’s one of the things we want to keep as close to top of the line as we can afford.”
Korokis said the city’s struggle to come up with its share of the funds for the project is not for a lack of trying.
“We tried to do a one-cent sales tax, and that would have been kind of the big kickstart that got it going,” Korokis said. “Which would have been a win-win for everybody. We could have got that going, we could do our roads, and we were going to take the park tax off of the personal property tax, so it would have been a win-win. But I don’t think people understood it.”
Korokis referred to a failed proposal placed on the ballot of the November 2016 election by the City Council, which would have provided an estimated $725,000 a year to the city. The tax would have been effective for a ten year period, and would have raised an estimated total of $7.25 million to be divided between quality of life/parks, the city general fund, capital improvements and economic development.
“So we had to go on,” Korokis said. “And I think there’s a lot of people that think the city dropped the ball, but we hadn’t. We were just struggling to find a way for how we were going to do it.”
Ward said the project needs to become a priority if it’s going to get underway.
“We’ve got to step forward and start doing something,” Ward said. “Because we’ve been talking about it for four years.”
Proponents of the project say that it will not only benefit those involved with baseball, t-ball or softball, but that it will positively impact the city’s economy.
“The complex would be good for the community, in the sense of bringing people to town,” Ward said. “And we’d really like to see softball and baseball tournaments come into town.”
Korokis said tournaments would also bridge the city toward further economic advantages in the way of business.
“So with a sports complex, you can start pulling in tournaments and you can start vying for the district softball tournaments or even more—sectionals maybe,” she said. “If you have the decent field. And it would also start pulling in fast food places and maybe a hotel, which would be really nice. So that’s our thinking—it would be a big boost.”
The proposed location for the sports complex is on County Road 202, behind Auto Plaza Ford in Fredericktown. The preliminary plan for the sports complex includes three baseball fields, two softball fields, parking lots, pavilions, playgrounds, batting cages, a basketball court, concession stands and a multi-purpose arena. Korokis said in order to get the project started as soon as possible, the work may be broken up into phases.
“I think we’ve kind of come to an agreement that if the numbers are right, we would do a phase one that would include two softball fields and a baseball field,” she said. “And the dirt work would be done for everything, all five fields, but we would first put in the two softball fields and the baseball field and put gravel in for a parking lot, a road and fencing.”
Korokis asked for patience from the public as the project details are hammered out, and said she wants to see the project get underway herself.
“My kids are pretty much all grown now,” she said. “So I don’t have a personal investment in it. But I work with these kids every single day. I know the kids that play town league and the ones that play travelling league and softball. I just want them to have something to be proud of. So when these other teams come in, our kids can say, ‘Look what I get to play on!’”
The Fredericktown City Council and the Madison County Commission met in closed session during the council’s meeting May 22 to further refine details of the project.