South Allentown’s Bicentennial Park “looks like absolute, complete and total crap,” declared City Council member Peter Schweyer, “and that’s being nice.”
“Every time I drive by, I’m expecting a section of the bleachers to fall down.”
Schweyer, who lives on the South Side, made his remarks about the city-owned baseball park while City Council discussed Allentown’s proposed 2014 budget with city parks and recreation officials Thursday night.
The ballpark, at Lehigh and Howard streets, has been leased for many years to a company called Elite Championship Tournament Baseball.
“The outside looks horrible,” agreed Rick Holtzman, the city’s parks superintendent.
John Mikowychok, the city’s parks and recreation director, told City Council he recently met with representatives of ECTB about the condition of the park’s outfield fencing, backboards, netting and locker rooms. The city has presented a list of needed improvements to ECTB.
“They are proposing to make these capital improvements in exchange for a credit toward a portion of their $35,000 annual lease,” said Mikowychok, adding ECTB also intends to install synthetic turf in the outfield.
Resident Glenn Hunsicker asked if ECTB is up to date on its lease payments.
Mikowychok said it is not, adding it is about $12,000 behind for this year. He said ECTB made its full payment last year.
ECTB’s lease agreement with the city allows it to spend money on repairs rather than making full lease payments, according to parks officials. It can get a credit for up to 50 percent of its monthly rent by making such improvements.
Holtzman said that agreement requires ECTB to maintain the park, adding he does not believe the operators are living up to their requirement to do maintenance and repairs.
He said he went to the park numerous times in the past to get them to clean it up and cut the grass.
“Maybe it’s time to get our legal department involved, if they are violating the terms of the lease,” suggested council member Jeanette Eichenwald.
Schweyer admitted he hasn’t been inside the park for at least four years. “My concern is that, driving by, the facility doesn’t look so hot. I can’t imagine what it looks like inside.”
Mikowychok said the park’s operators are making regular improvements to spectator seating and “the infield looks excellent. They’ve gotten compliments from leagues using it.”
The parks director said if the operators spend more to improve the park, they want assurance their lease will be extended “to recoup their investment. They’re businessmen and they don’t want to invest thousands of dollars into a facility that the city suddenly would take.”
The Virginia-based ECTB, also known as East Coast Tournament Baseball, has been leasing Bicentennial Park since 2005. Its initial lease was for three years. Council was told the current lease agreement continues for three more years.
When resident Tom Hahn said local sports organizations complain they can’t use Bicentennial Park because of the lease, Mikowychok said: “The city does not wish to be in the full-time business of programming a baseball stadium.”
Only five city residents attended Thursday night’s public budget meeting and all are regular attendees at City Council meetings. The meeting reviewed the budget for human resources as well as parks and recreation.
It was the second of five meetings council has scheduled this month on the proposed $89.4-million budget for 2014.
The next three meetings will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 21, 5:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and 6 p.m. Nov. 26.
Final adoption of the budget is scheduled for Dec. 4.
$100,000 savings in ’14 parks budget
Mikowychok reported the city’s parks and recreation department will spend $105,737 less in 2014 than this year on grounds maintenance and the operation of the city’s trout nursery.
City council members typically question increases in proposed budgets, but Eichenwald wanted to know what is being cut from the parks budget, saying that’s a substantial amount of money.