Green light for new Castle Field

by Mandy Moran Froemming
Union Editor

The Anoka City Council has given the official go-ahead to move Castle Field to the Anoka High School.

The council Feb. 6 unanimously agreed to order the plans for the project, two weeks after it was presented with a recommendation on the design for a new ball park from the Castle Field Committee.

“I think every one of us is just so excited to think about town ball and this magnet up there,” said Councilmember Steve Schmidt. “When this gets used we don’t really have any idea how sought after this is going to be. We look at Castle Field and what we have today, but it is really going to be quite extraordinary.”

The ball park will be located on the high school campus, south of the ice arena and north of the soccer fields, on land donated by the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Current cost estimates are $1.9 million for the completed ball field and stadium.

City Manager Tim Cruikshank said the value of the baseball field is even higher than that nearly $2 million price tag, because a dollar figure has yet to be put on that land being donated by the school district.

“We’ve got major players involved to make this thing happen and the first is the school district by donating the property,” said Cruikshank. Those players also include the Anoka American Legion Post 102 with its donation of the land for the existing field.

The $1.2 million from the sale of that property to HealthPartners has been unofficially earmarked to pay for the new ball park. The council has also been supportive of closing a funding gap of $340,000 to get the first phase of the field under way, although that will need to be addressed officially by the council when it accepts construction bids later this spring.

At last week’s meeting, Public Services Director and City Engineer Greg Lee told the council that the project will be bid in two pieces. The first will be the playing field and amenities associated with it. The second, the concession, storage and restroom building located under the bleachers, will come a few months later.

“It looks very similar to a stadium, it’s a bleacher system and there would be a building system underneath the bleachers where there would be storage, concessions, restroom facilities located,” said Lee.

Delaying the contract award on the building will give the city and stakeholders time to generate the $400,000 needed to complete the building.

Cruikshank said there is already a fund-raising committee coming together with plans to kick off a capital campaign.

“We’re going to involve the community to bridge that gap,” he said. The committee will be talking to local contractors, hoping to get them to contribute time or materials to the project.

Cruikshank said there will also be a grassroots fund-raising campaign kick off at some point, along with possible naming rights and aggressive advertising opportunities for the field.

These all will require the council’s approval.

Councilmember Jeff Weaver complimented city staff on working with a large number of stakeholders to find consensus on the Castle Field move from its current Highway 10 location.

“It could have been a very hot potato moving Castle Field from its present location and you put together a wonderful group that worked hard and has taken ownership in this project,” said Weaver.

This isn’t the first time the city has tried to relocate the ball field. Back in 1989 there were plans for a developer to build a motel on the site and Castle Field at that time was also headed up to the high school.

But when the motel project didn’t go through, the ball field stayed put – aging to the point where the city had to decide whether it would make a significant investment in upgrading the field or start from scratch.


Preserving history

Castle Field was built in 1949 at a cost of $12,500, according to ABC Newspapers archives. Federal Cartridge Company donated $3,500 to the field’s construction, while community members when door to door in the 1940s collecting donations for what was initially known as Greenhaven Memorial Field.

The first game was played in the summer of 1950. In 1953 it was dedicated as Willard Castle Memorial Field. Castle, an employee of Anoka’s water and light department, died at the age of 26 when he was electrocuted on the job in June 1952.

He was not only a well known ballplayer and athlete, he also had put in many hours of work preparing the ball park for its opening in 1950, according to a story in the July 7, 1989 edition of the Anoka County Union.

As part of the new ball park, the city is making a special effort to preserve the history of the community landmark.

“There was a time where some people might say that Anoka was derelict in its duty in trying to preserve history and I think some buildings were torn down and that was a shame,” said Councilmember Mark Freeburg. “But I think now our city has become a lot more sensitive to carrying on the heritage and the artifacts. This is a fine example of that the city is doing that.”

This was a priority for the Castle Field Committee, the stakeholder group that met for over 22 months to come up with a plan for the relocation.

“They wanted to make sure we preserved that history and brought that history over to the new Castle Field,” said Lee.

Monuments and memorials at the existing ballpark will be brought into the new Castle Field incorporated into the ball field’s plaza. Dugout memorials to past coaches Wayne Dietz and Dick Johnson can also be transferred to the new field.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]