By Lauren Zeugner
SYRACUSE — While the town of Syracuse and Polywood LLC hammer out the final details in an economic development agreement (see related story), Chad Jonsson, Syracuse Park superintendent, and Syracuse Town Councilman Larry Martindale have been working on a preliminary plan for the new ballpark.
Jonsson said there currently isn’t a drawing for the new park, but one change is to have four fenced ball fields and a separate football field. Currently, at the Harold Schrock Athletic Complex, there are three fenced fields and one unfenced field that overlaps the football field.
Jonsson said there is a possibility of having a playground and pavilion at the new park depending on how things fit.
Martindale, who is a member of Wawasee Kiwanis and worked on developing the first ball field, said moving the ballpark bothered him a little bit. In fact, he contacted some of the major donors to the Harold Schrock complex to see how they felt about it.
“We think it’s important to keep Polywood in Syracuse,” Martindale said in a phone interview. “We’re losing Rinker, we didn’t want to lose Polywood.”
The Schrock complex is approximately 6.96 acres while the property the town is hoping to purchase at Black Walnut Farm is 23.57 acres.
Jonsson said depending on the design, weather and contractors schedules he’s guessing the earliest games can be played at the new park will be spring 2021.
According to the economic development agreement, Polywood cannot start construction on its new manufacturing facility until the new ballpark is completed. Martindale said youth league will be played at the Schrock complex this summer as will football in the fall.
Martindale stressed nothing about the new ballpark has been finalized yet. There are plans to have a walking trail around the park and the size of the parking lot had to be doubled. Both he and Jonsson want more room between the fences where the bleachers will be located.
The new park will also be more handicap accessible with cement walkways instead of gravel. Safety netting will also be installed to protect spectators.
The new park will have a concessions stand, located by the ball fields, and a storage facility that will be located by the football field. Both buildings will have restrooms and a concession area.
Mike Noe, town manager, said he originally looked at the Black Walnut Farm property as a way to address Syracuse’s housing shortage. But when the town entered into competition with North Carolina to keep Polywood here, he thought it would work as a potential ballpark.
“I was hoping when we first started this, we could put some houses up there with the ball field,” he said in a phone interview.
Noe said the property is a good fit for a new ballpark since utilities are already available.
However, several residents of Kerns Crossing, the neighborhood bordering the property where the new park may be built, have taken to social media to express their displeasure. Some are unhappy at not being informed about the possibility of the park being located nearby, while others have questions regarding traffic and lighting for night games.
Noe said the president of the Kerns Crossing Home Owners Association contacted him with questions. One concern is the park would bring traffic through the neighborhood. Noe said there will be an entrance to the park off Kern Road, so there should be no need for traffic through Kerns Crossing to get to the park.
“It wasn’t that we were trying to keep the ball field a secret,” Noe said. He added the town could have purchased another piece of land, but it would have been out of town and further south. Noe has offered to meet with Kerns Crossing residents to answer their questions.
“We’re all for putting a park back there. The kids need a place to go,” said Nick Kovarik, president of the Kerns Crossing Home Owners Association, in a phone interview. Kovarik did say the residents of Kerns Crossing weren’t expecting a ball field and have some concerns about traffic, lighting and what the ballpark may do to their property values. Kovarik stressed the neighborhood is not against the park, although there are some concerns about the park’s design.
“We’re going to get a lot of use of it,” he said. He and the homeowners association are trying to figure out a way for residents to meet with Noe to ask questions while maintaining social distancing. Kovarik said he’s spoken to Noe several times and he seems willing to help.
Plans for the area also include putting in a sidewalk to connect the schools and other neighborhoods in the area to the ball field. Noe noted there aren’t any public parks on that side of town. He sees the new complex as an opportunity for the town to expand and grow.
Once Polywood signs the economic development agreement, the next step is to purchase the property, then the town will go before the area planning commission to have the zoning changed from agriculture to public use.
A looming question regarding the park is how much of the project will have to be bonded since the estimated cost is closer to $2 million, rather than the $1.5 million cited in the economic development agreement.