During the July 1 Waverly City Council meeting the council members and staff held a discussion about ball diamonds for the city of Waverly. As someone who has worked for years with many dedicated volunteers to bring the Champions Ridge ball diamond and county fair project to reality, it was distressing on many levels to observe this discussion.
As council members talked about forming some type of “commission” to study ball diamond needs and recommend options for going forward, I couldn’t help but feel this sense of déjà vu coming over me. 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. You can find this report on the City’s Agenda Manager website, simply search for the Nov. 26, 2007, council meeting agenda.
The observations, conclusions, and recommendations contained in that report are as applicable today as they were in 2007. It took the city and another group of volunteers, called the Fair Diamond Development Committee, 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 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.”
There is much more history here than I care to go into, lest I put the reader to sleep, but suffice it to say that there was a lot of groundwork, many meetings, and many more volunteers invested in bringing the general idea first sketched out by the Ball Diamond Task Force to a named project with a fixed location and a workable design, a project now known as Champions Ridge.
The council’s discussion on July 1 left much to be desired with respect to how the city has gotten to its current point of suddenly feeling a need to do more study. As Winston Churchill long ago pointed out, those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
We’ve been accused, on many occasions, of being “unsuccessful” in fundraising. As someone who has talked with prospective donors since 2013, when our fundraising efforts got under way, many donors expressed doubt about the project getting the support it needed from the city to bring it to completion, especially with regard to the pending purchase option for the remainder of the Smith property needed to complete the ball diamonds. And then, there were the rumors and misinformation spread about whether the project had the full support of all the parties involved: the ball groups, the county fair association, the City Council, and the county government.
In an environment of skepticism and whispers that “it will never happen,” our ability to raise over $1.4 million for the project ought to have been celebrated as a success. Remember, Champions Ridge is a very unique, comprehensive, “big picture” project; it meets the current needs of our ball leagues and the county fair, as well as provides for long-term future growth. Perhaps most importantly, it involves the collaboration of four major entities: Waverly ball groups (which represents youth baseball, youth softball, and adult softball), the Bremer County Fair Association, the City of Waverly, and Bremer county government. The success of Champions Ridge rests on the active, steadfast support and promotion on the part of all these partners.
The unilateral declaration by our mayor that Champions Ridge is “no more” certainly caught me and other Champions Ridge Board members by surprise. 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.
It was painful indeed to hear at a public meeting that Champions Ridge is “no more.” This is a community development project seven years in the making. Do we not deserve the courtesy of a private conversation about what the city’s intent is, prior to a public declaration? Since March 18, we have been working with the understanding that the project is going through a “hard reset,” that the March 18 council’s action terminated “… the city’ s participation in the Champions Ridge Project as currently set forth [emphasis added] in the Development Agreement in Resolution 11- 158… .” In the three-plus months following the March 18 meeting no one from the city told us we were “no more.”
The mayor’s statement shows little recognition of the complexities involved in shutting down a community development project that involves four different entities, has received upwards of $1.4 million from over 160 donors, has a volunteer governing board, has invested over $300,000 in expenses on behalf of the project (including construction documents), and has been built on the backs of hundreds of volunteers who invested thousands of hours and tons of energy into bringing the Champions Ridge project to within a hair’s breadth of breaking ground. For the mayor to question the integrity of the Champions Ridge fundraising work is unconscionable and does nothing but to further smear the dedication and hard work of so many upstanding volunteer supporters.
The Champions Ridge Board is left to figure out where the council’s July 1 discussion and comments leave us. It was deflating and painful to say the least. I, for one, would like to find the high road out of this quagmire. I don’t know if there is enough will to do so on the part of other participants in this project. Understandably, frustrations over the jagged journey of this project run deep. But, the youth and families of Waverly and Bremer County deserve to be provided with a ball and fair complex that meets their needs, provides up-to-date facilities, and is a safe, permanent, all-inclusive, future-focused complex. Champions Ridge is just such a complex, a facility that we can be proud of for its utility, vision, and distinctiveness. It would be a tragedy indeed should Champions Ridge suffer a “death by a thousand cuts.”