MARION — Officials working to make the Prospect Meadows baseball and softball complex a reality gathered with baseball fanatics Thursday to celebrate finally stepping onto home base, raising $11.3 million for the project so far — enough to begin work on the project’s first phase.
While still shy of the $13.6 million goal for initial construction, the officials said work is set to start next week on the site of the future 17-field complex, located on county-owned land on the southeast corner of County Home Road and Highway 13 near Marion.
The first phase of the project is expected to open in spring 2019. It will include eight fields and amenities such as concessions and restrooms, plus a “Miracle Field” with a rubberized surface and wheelchair accessible dugouts made especially for children with disabilities — the only field of its kind in Eastern Iowa.
“It includes everybody,” said Nate Wilson, a Linn-Mar Little League player, adding that he hoped to play at the complex next year.
The second phase of construction, during which the remaining eight fields will be built, is not anticipated to start until fall 2021 and may not end until 2023.
Attracted by its tourism and economic impact potential, both public and private supporters are financing the project.
Linn County is leasing land to Prospect Meadows for $1 annually for 95 years and has contributed $1.5 million toward it. Marion committed $1.25 million to the project and Cedar Rapids will give up to $1 million over time. In total, public funds raised equate to $5.8 million.
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Private donors have contributed $5.5 million. Jack Roeder, president of Prospect Meadows Inc., said a $1.5 million “challenge” grant from the Hall-Perrine Foundation last October put the project over the edge and gave it the momentum needed to break ground.
The project’s total cost is $18 million, leaving officials with more than $6 million yet to raise.
“We made the decision that we want to get Phase 1 open and running, get the eight fields up and running for a year or two to kind of get our feet underneath us,” Roeder said.
Proceeds earned once Phase 1 opens also are expected to help Prospect Meadows earn money to be able to work on Phase 2, Roeder said, and if things go well, Phase 2 may begin sooner.
While work has not been done on the fields yet, Roeder said some earth work was done last fall on the site.
The Iowa Department of Transportation provided $1.3 million worth of turn lanes on Highway 13, a third lane on County Home Road near Highway 13 and a road through the complex.
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching baseball. The favorite baseball I watch is these guys right here,” Roeder said, gesturing to the youth baseball players present at the ground breaking ceremony. “ ... Coaches might care who wins, but they don’t.”
Brad Clement, chief executive of Perfect Game, a baseball scouting service in Cedar Rapids, said several organizations have committed to playing at the field — some from Eastern Iowa and others from outside the region. Once the complex is more established, he said, the primary draw is anticipated to be from the surrounding 350-mile radius, spanning Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City.
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Game Day USA, an Illinois-based event management company, and Perfect Game have booked 1,400 teams a year to play at the facility, Prospect Meadows officials said.
“It’s true Iowa with the number of people that got together to work on a project and collaborate with the … the ideas and the wherewithal to get it done,” Clement said.
A report released last month on a feasibility study commissioned by the Linn County Board of Supervisors indicated the project was likely to succeed financially.
John Harris, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said during an address Wednesday that with an estimated 60,000 out-of-town tourists coming into the area for tournaments, officials anticipate the complex will be a boost to the local economy, generating $20 million annually.
“With Prospect Meadows, our youth will have a quality facility in our own backyard, adding to the quality of life in Linn County,” Harris said.
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