City, clubs persist to create Kiwanis Park gem —

City, clubs persist to create Kiwanis Park gem

By Michael Shepard, Sarah Jenkins &Bill Lee; Oct. 31, 2006 © Yakima Hearld-Republic

Tuesday, October 31, 2006  

What a marvelous community asset Kiwanis Park has become, thanks to city officials and local service clubs who refused to give up on the potential of the park to become the region's premier softball facility.

The fourth new ballfield at Kiwanis is in the final stages now and will see players take the field on Memorial Day weekend.

The expansion project at Kiwanis Park started in July 2003 and resulted in the initial construction of three new fields. Also included were a playground, picnic shelter, bleachers and scoreboards at a cost of about $3 million.

A variety of funding sources got it done, with a huge boost coming from nearly $2 million from the state Department of Commerce, Trade and Economic Development and Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation.

Local Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs kicked in about a half million dollars in cash and in-kind sweat equity.

Rounding out the funding, now-defunct tennis courts and ballfields at Larson Park were sold to Yakima Valley Community College to provide room for college expansion. That money paid for new tennis courts at Kissel Park, with a portion also directed to the efforts at Kiwanis Park.

The fourth field was a real test of funding ingenuity. To pay for the $750,000 project, the city patched together an assortment of funds -- including revenues from real estate taxes, park funds and $400,000 previously set aside for the now defunct joint city-county meeting facility.

Now let's address the "Big League Dreams" proposal turned down by voters in September 2001.

That was the ambitious sports complex at Kiwanis Park that would have included five lighted ballfields, of which three would be scaled-down replicas of historic major league ballparks. The complex would have also featured a multisport pavilion, batting cages, a restaurant, parking for up to 350 vehicles and a playground and picnic area.

The dream complex turned out to be just that -- a dream -- when city voters turned down a 1 percentage point increase in utility tax rates to pay for it.

Then, city officials and the service clubs went to work on a scaled-down alternate plan that did not rely on local taxpayers to foot the bill.

We make special mention of the ill-fated Big League Dreams here because some misinformed people are incorrectly linking it to Proposition 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot in Yakima, which if approved would increase city utility tax rates 1.5 percentage points. The money would be dedicated to law enforcement -- primarily for 22 new police officers.

The 2001 proposal would have earmarked the money for capital construction at Kiwanis Park.

When it failed, the state funding and other monies subsequently scratched together to build the four new ballfields were also earmarked for capital construction.

Capital construction funds cannot be used as operating funds. Even if the four new fields had not been built, none of that money could have gone for hiring police officers, who are paid out of the city's operating budget.

Bottom line: If city officials and the service clubs had not taken the initiative, we would not have four new ballfields at Kiwanis Park today. And we'd still need 22 new police officers.

We commend them for their commitment to improving the quality of life in the community, while sprucing up a section of the city sorely in need of it.

And we remain strongly in support of Proposition 1 on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. It's a quality of life issue, too.

The fourth new field at Kiwanis Park is another step toward what is an ambitious, long-range vision for the eastern edge of the city: a recreational complex stretching from Kiwanis Park to State Fair Park and involving any number of activities.

That's one dream with a lot of potential as long as there are people around who are committed to keeping things moving ahead like they did at Kiwanis Park.

Nice job!

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