The mayor says it's dead.
Two board members for the ball association say it's alive.
Their opinions were expressed in Waverly Newspapers this week. Two were printed in Tuesday's Bremer County Independent, while one can be read in today's edition.
Does Champions Ridge, the joint project between the Bremer County Fair and the Waverly Softball Association still have a pulse?
Is it, or isn't it?
What will be the future of the youth and adult softball and baseball programs in Waverly?
For over a decade, the City of Waverly has been trying to find a way forward with providing youth and adults adequate diamonds for the softball and baseball programs in town.
It seemed that the way to do that was to build up to 12 new fields on nearly 100 acres of land that the city purchased on the western outskirts of town which was to be shared with the Bremer County Fair. However, a lack of perceived support from the community has stalled plans.
During the July 1 Waverly City Council meeting, Mayor Dean Soash declared that Champions Ridge is a dead project, but the city won’t give up on providing playing facilities for youth ballplayers.
During Monday’s meeting, he will ask the council to seat a new committee that will once again research the need for baseball and softball.
According to the agenda packet for July 15 City Council meeting, the mayor is recommending Waverly-Shell Rock Middle School Principal Jeremy Langer, who was formerly the high school baseball coach at Waterloo West; Joshua Petersen, a member of a youth baseball club; Tina Miller, human resources director at The Accel Group; Charlie Heyer, a girls’ softball association member; Jennifer Nus, also with the girls’ softball association; Kevin Miller, a former coach of the Little League program; and Charlie Britain, a former Little League coach and coordinator.
Leisure Services Commission Director Garret Riordan will be the temporary chairman.
However, supporters of Champions Ridge say not so fast. They believe that the project can be salvaged, and a new study group is not necessary and in fact, it will take everything back to square one.
In a piece entitled "The rise and demise of Champion's Ridge," published in Tuesday’s Bremer County Independent’s opinion page, Soash said the failure of Champions Ridge came down an economy of scale. Simply, the $1 million it had raised over 2018 was not enough, he stated.
“Phase 1 of the project included moving dirt and underground infrastructure in order to make the site usable for the fair and ball diamonds,” Soash wrote. “Phase 1 had an estimated price tag of $2.5 million. Unfortunately, it came down to many, many citizens voicing support for Champions Ridge, but not enough opened their wallets.”
However, Brenda Meyer, an at-large member of the Champions Ridge board, wrote in a letter to the editor that also ran Tuesday, that Soash’s suggestion to form the new commission would be “turning back the clock 10 years to redo all analysis that was completed a decade ago.”
“I don’t think the community needs have changed with respect to what is needed. The leadership has changed,” Meyer said. “They are less informed about the origins and evolution of the project. But that doesn’t mean we have to go back to square one and start over to get them up to speed.”
She said that Champions Ridge is “within a stone’s throw from breaking ground.”
“I would like to suggest that before a new commission is developed that studies ‘all the alternatives’ again, that two or three study sessions should be held with the Waverly City Council and other interested parties,” she wrote. “This would be in response to more than one Waverly City Council member expressing at the July 1 meeting that they ‘simply don’t have enough information to make a good decision regarding the project.’”
Fred Ribich, who has served as the community liaison for the Champions Ridge board from its inception, said observing the discussion was “distressing on many levels.” In an opinion piece that can be seen on Page A6 of today’s edition, Ribich said the establishment of the commission is a sense of déjà vu.
“To my ear, it appeared that the council paid little attention to the history behind the development of a ball diamond complex to serve the variety of needs for youth and adult ball laid out in a late 2007 report from a “Ball Diamond Task Force” established by the then council, a council on which I served as Ward 5 representative,” Ribich wrote.
“It took the city and another group of volunteers… close to five years to follow up on the ideas loosely laid out in the Task Force report. During that period, there were two design studies, an evaluation of 25 different sites under consideration for locating a ball diamond-fair complex, and an eventual purchase agreement, in December 2012, for the Neil Smith property west of CUNA along the north side of (Iowa) Highway 3. It wasn’t until mid-2012 or so that this joint project for serving the Waverly ball groups and the Bremer County Fair was branded as ‘Champions Ridge.’”
He added that the reason fundraising was slow, even though they did raise $1.4 million, the potential donors he spoke with were skeptical of the city’s commitment to the project.
“The unilateral declaration by our Mayor that Champions Ridge is “no more” certainly caught me and other Champions Ridge Board members by surprise,” he wrote. “Since the council’s action at its March 18, 2019, meeting the Champions Ridge Board worked on a proposal for purchasing the remaining land owned by the City at the Champions Ridge site. At the March 18 meeting we expressed this intent to explore future directions for the project, along with the intent to suspend our fundraising work until the path forward was clearly laid out.
“Discussions with city staff about a possible purchase proposal began in May and culminated with a formal proposal (along with supporting documents) being submitted in mid-June to the City by the Waverly Softball Association (WSA, the parent organization of the three Waverly ball programs mentioned above). The expectation was that the WSA would receive a response, or a counter-proposal, from the City; or perhaps there would be an invitation to review and discuss the proposal with representatives from the WSA. WSA has yet to receive any formal response to the proposal WSA made to the City.”
However, Soash, the mayor, said that the City Council had decided not to consider the proposal.
"In a statement to the Waverly City Council in January 2019, the Champions Ridge group stated that all fundraising had been suspended and a new plan would be forthcoming," Soash wrote. "Subsequently, two offers by the ball diamond group to purchase the balance of the Smith property, approximately 100 acres, from the city were made. Both offers by the ball diamond group were rejected by the City Council as not being feasible as secure financing to purchase and complete the project were not adequate.
"The consensus by the Waverly City Council at the July 1, 2019, council meeting was, 'It was time to take control of providing for our youth and adult baseball and softball facilities.' Thus, the statement, 'We are pulling the plug.'
"The Bremer County Fair Association has their site and will be given the deed when some conditions that have been imposed are met. Hopefully, they can commence construction this fall.
"With concerns for our ball programs and facilities being discussed as early as 2001 to the present, it is time to serve those that will benefit. Two and possibly three generations of youth that updated diamonds and facilities would have benefited have lost out. It is time."
Also, the council will vote on a contract to perform soil borings on a tract of land located north of the Waverly Shell Rock Soccer Complex across the Cedar River Parkway. The site may only be able to hold up to four diamonds, whereas Champions Ridge had potential to hold 12.
Even though the city considers the Champions Ridge project to be no more, Mayor Soash said Waverly officials will work to make sure youth ballplayers have adequate facilities.
“We believe that it is still possible to make this a public-private project,” he said. “Depending on the task force’s findings, results may be apparent this calendar year.”