The Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks and Recreation Commission is beginning a journey that may end in the renewal of a somewhat neglected and unused but valuable piece of sports real estate: the Eagleton Ball Park.
Commissioners voted unanimously during their first 2020 meeting Friday to spend $24,500 on a master plan for restoring and upgrading the park.
The plan will be drawn up by BARGE Design Solutions, represented at the meeting by Knoxville office Vice President of Land Resources Steve Fritts.
Fritts, a landscape architect, introduced himself by noting he was in fact a Blount resident and “passionate about parks and recreation work.” He said the company has done around $8 million or $9 million across the Southeast in parks work alone in 2019. Its past work includes the $22.5 million price-tagged Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge.
The repairs come as the park has not been getting much use over the past few years, according to Parks and Rec Director Joe Huff.
“It’s actually kind of deteriorated. It’s not in the best shape in the world,” Huff said during the meeting. “So, the idea was to have somebody do a master plan: If we redid that area, what can we get in there? What kind of ballfields? How much parking? How much would it cost?”
Huff explained the decision to pursue the master plan came out of meeting with Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell, Finance Director Randy Vineyard and Fritts, all of whom agreed there was a path forward.
Big improvements discussed
The process, according to Fritts, will take around two months. BARGE first will survey the project to decide what the needs are and how much space potential developers have to work with.
Then, the company will work with a team that includes Vineyard, Mitchell, Huff and others to assess a variety of concepts until they settle on a design and opinion of final cost.
Fritts said this process could begin as soon as February and wrap up by April.
“I’ve personally done dozens and dozens and dozens of these,” he said before he asked commissioners if they had any questions. “We’re very well qualified to do this and appreciated the opportunity to finally do something in Blount.”
“What’s the goal?” Maryville representative Andy White asked Fritts during the meeting.
“That park is in such poor shape,” Fritts replied, adding that, with elements added haphazardly, over time “it doesn’t function as a modern park should function safety-wise and in a lot of other ways.”
Huff confirmed this in an interview after the meeting, explaining that the park is nowhere near meeting American with Disabilities Act standards.
Fritts used the words “clean slate” in describing the approach to renovation, saying they were considering modern, 200- to 220-foot baseball-softball fields on the 26 acres of county property the park encompasses.
He did not give a number of potential fields, but noted there were currently seven in the park.
He said there also have been discussions of a 350-foot high school-sized field and a multipurpose field for soccer, rugby or other sports.
Multiple parties interested
“As we looked at the inventory of youth baseball fields in this area, we felt this needed to be mainly youth baseball and softball because there are not a whole lot of other ones around,” Huff said, emphasizing the idea was to keep the area primarily focused on bat-and-ball sports for youth.
Given considerations to add a high school to Eagleton Middle School — which Blount County Schools Director Rob Britt talked about in an October 2019 Board of Education retreat — park renovations may not be the only thing happening in Eagleton Village.
And Parks and Rec is not the only entity trying to keep the park useful.
BCS approved a bid at the beginning of December 2019 to pay for $35,000 in grading, fence removal, drainage repair and other work on the baseball fields. Contracts for this work called it “Phase I” of baseball field renovations, proposal documents show.
A ‘Blount County native’ price
Parks and Rec commissioners were enthused about the project, suggesting general redesign of the area and upgrades for uses beyond baseball would be welcome.
Huff said the nearly $25,000 for the master plan comes from the Blount County capital improvement fund, which currently has $112,000 in it.
“That is a good price,” Alcoa City Manager Mark Johnson said during the meeting.
“Well you’re getting the Blount County native price,” Fritts told the commission to laughter.
“A facility like this could start bringing in tournaments and generate a lot of economic impact,” Huff said after the meeting. “I think that over the long haul, they pay for themselves through the money they bring into communities.”