City council sees plans for new Castle Field in Anoka

by Mandy Moran Froemming
Union Editor

A group charged with coming up for a plan for a new Castle Field has presented its vision to the Anoka City Council.

During a Jan. 23 work session, the council heard from members of the Castle Field Committee, city staff and landscape architects who are proposing a new $1.9 million ball field.

Construction is expected start this spring at the new Anoka High School location, which would relocate the diamond from its longtime home just off Highway 10.

This follows 22 months of meetings between stakeholders that included local baseball clubs that use the field, the city, the Anoka-Hennepin School District and the Anoka American Legion, which originally gave the field to the city back in the 1949.

The project has been moved ahead by the sale of the property to HealthPartners, which plans to build a new medical clinic on the site located near Green Haven Golf Course.

Under the current proposal, construction would begin in late spring or early summer with the possibility of some limited play on the field in the summer of 2013. Official dedication of the field won’t likely take place until the spring of 2014, according to Greg Lee, the city’s public services director and city engineer.

The current ball field design features a variety of amenities including bleacher seating for 250, team dugouts, bullpens and batting cages, a plaza entry to the field, parking and a building that would house concessions, restrooms and storage.

“There’s going to be nothing in the near vicinity that’s going to shine like this one,” said Rick Oehschelager of the Anoka American Legion on the proposed plan for Castle Field.

In the plan presented to the city council, the project was broken down financially into two phases. The first would be the playing field, bleachers and infrastructure with a price tag of $1.5 million.

The second phase includes the building located underneath the bleachers, which would house concessions, restroom and storage, which is estimated to cost just over $400,000.

“We’ve looked at how much each piece of the puzzle costs and how we bring them all together,” said landscape architect Jay Pomeroy. His firm Anderson, Johnson Associates was contracted by the city to design the ball field.

Councilmember Jeff Weaver commended both city staff and committee members for their approach.

“You’ve got the entire community taking ownership of this project,” said Weaver. “That has gone really well.”

According to Weaver, there are plans in place to recognize both the history of Castle Field and some of the people who were influential in the local baseball community.

“We will make sure that history stays alive and well and nobody forgets those names,” said Weaver.

To date, an official plan to pay for the ball field has not been approved by the council, although there is general agreement by the city and the Legion that the $1.2 million proceeds from the sale of the current Castle Field site to HealthPartners will be earmarked for the project, said City Manager Tim Cruikshank.

The city will likely also contribute an additional $340,000 needed for construction of the playing field to go ahead.

This leaves a gap of approximately $410,000, or the cost of the building that will house concessions, storage and restrooms, for which a funding source will need to be found.

“The financing pieces may not all be in place, but this will be an asset to our whole city,” said Councilmember Steve Schmidt.

According to Lee, the building will be bid separately a couple of months later than the rest of the ball field. This will allow the city to get to work on construction of Castle Field and buy it some time to attract funding for the concessions building.

Cruikshank said there have already been meetings about a capital fund-raising campaign that will look to attract in-kind donations of construction materials and services, along with general fund-raising.

The land for the new ballpark is being donated by the Anoka-Hennepin School District. At this time, the district doesn’t have a value calculated for that property.

“We’re still working some of that out,” said Chuck Holden, chief operations officer for the school district, on the final mapping and space needs for the project. “But the value of eight to 10 acres along Seventh Avenue is pretty significant.”

There is also a group working to create a non-profit organization to lessen the financial burden to the city in the relocation, construction and maintenance of a city-owned baseball facility. Tax-exempt status would allow for fund-raising contributions to be tax deductible.

“All of the parties that have a vested interest will be on the board (of directors) with some members of the community at large,” said Scott Baumgartner, a member of the Castle Field Committee. Baumgartner, an attorney, is also working on drafting articles of incorporation for this non-profit organization.

According to Baumgartner, this organization would also govern many aspects of the field once it is open to play, including field maintenance and usage, scheduling, managing concessions and treasury work.

“This would be a good vehicle to ensure Castle Field remains a nice field into the future,” he said.

The council will be asked to order the plans and specifications of the Castle Field project at its Feb. 6 meeting. The site plan will also be up for review by the planning commission in March. Later that month the council will then authorize those plans and go out for bids, which will be awarded on April 19, said Lee.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]