NEWBERRY – In the early days of American baseball, fans who didn’t want to pay the quarter to get in, would look through the cracks and knotholes of the outfield wall to check out the game.
Though it is now 2012, as Newberry’s Nations Baseball Park falls slightly behind schedule, some are wondering what exactly lies beyond that outfield wall.
Lou Presutti, who has worked closely with the City of Newberry to bring the magic from his Cooperstown Dreams Park in New York to Newberry, has a positive attitude about the park. He said the youth baseball park is about 80 or 85 percent complete.
The groundbreaking for the $7 million project was held in March of last year. The 16-field park on the corner of Southwest 30th Avenue and State Road 41 has lighted fields and a turf-grass combination that will allow kids to be able to play even when the weather isn’t ideal.
A dark green outfield wall encloses each field, and there is a section partitioned off in the corner of each field for parents to sit in chairs. Presutti said the 1920s Americana feel inspired the design for the park.
While Presutti admitted that the project has had some unanticipated construction delays, he said these were minor in the big picture.
Part of these issues had to do with a $25,000 relocation of endangered gopher tortoises at the site. Other charges came from sinkhole problems.
According to City Manager Keith Ashby, available funding should be able to pay for these charges, including a combination of revenues from Alachua County’s Tourism Development Tax and contributions from the City of Newberry and Presutti.
These delays set construction back several weeks, Presutti said. There may be a “soft” opening celebration in June and a tournament in the late summer, but it will probably be November before the park is fully operational, according to Presutti.
Despite this, he believes the economic benefits of the park will make up for these delays, and that the park’s website is an indicator of the enthusiasm for the park around the country.
The web site, which features the score from the classic western film “The Magnificent Seven,” is averaging over 10,000 hits per day, Presutti said.
Ashby also sees the value of the park to the city. “It’s just as much of an economic development project as it is a recreation project,” he said.
The park has already begun to spur other businesses to take a closer look at Newberry. Firefly and the Red Wok are two restaurants that opened this year. A new commercial and residential complex just south of Oak View Middle School has also been approved.
As far as perspective goes, Presutti said his enthusiasm is beyond optimistic. “It’s not a glass half-full kind of thing, it’s spilling all over the place.”
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