The county is looking for a new outfit to run Sportspark.

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There had been some uncertainty about the future of the Mike Jacob Sportspark, but a recent vote by the Pima County Board of Supervisors ensures the near future of the facility.

The supervisors voted 4-0 at their Dec. 13 meeting to fund capital improvements to the facility. They can use up to $1 million for the improvements, using funding from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s right-of-way acquisition as part of I-10/Ina Road construction.

“Ultimately we are confident that the Sportspark facility, with the investment authorized by the Board, will be able to remain open for public use,” said Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Director Chris Cawein. “However some of the likely repairs will require trenching and other heavy construction activities so we will likely need to temporarily suspend play at the site while we conduct those needed activities.”

District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller was not present at the meeting to cast a vote.

The facility will potentially have a new operator. For the time being the current operator will remain running Sportspark but the board authorized Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation (NRPR) to offer the present operators a month-to-month agreement for 6-months to continue their operations at the site while they pursue proposals for longer term viable solutions to the future of Sportspark.  Initial discussions with one of the operators indicated his interest in continuation for that period and the second operator does not appear very interested.

According to a release by the county quoting Chris Cawein, NRPR director, Sportspark is “operated through a complex public/private partnership that has a number of shortcomings.”

Cawein explained that they are “not married” to the 6-month timeframe, that it is more important 

The county has been involved with the facility since 2010, which began the current operating model. The county performs much of the turf and field maintenance operations, while two operators are contracted to perform for field scheduling, tournament play, fee collection and concession operations.

The county has said that the current agreement has “created challenges.”

The release cited a recent operational review that found several issues, including “infrastructure safety concerns, issues related to utilities, regulatory compliance matters and site access concerns.”

The Ina overpass project will also play a role. Ina Road it set to close in early 2017 for at least a year and a half, and that will make access to Sportspark far more difficult. The project will take a portion of county land, including a part of Sportspark, as a right of way for construction. Because of this NRPR officials that the construction would provide a good opportunity to “review and retool park operations.” 

NRPR will assemble a team to start a facility audit in the next few weeks and the audit is expected to take four to six weeks to complete. NRPR has not ruled out a partial closure of the facility for safety purposes, but that won’t be known until the audit is fully completed.

“I am assembling a multi-disciplinary team to conduct the facility assessment to determine how best to invest those available dollars into safety, infrastructure, utility and aesthetic improvements,” Cawein said. “I hope to mobilize that team within the next few weeks and ask them to audit the facility and prepare a prioritized list of projects that should be completed at the site.”

Cawein suggested that due to the age of the facility that there will likely be more projects than they have funds, but he did say they hope to “break ground on some of the critical repair projects in January even while the final assessment report is in preparation.”

Most, if not all of the projects will be safety projects. 

“Last thing we want to happen is that anyone gets hurt using the facility so we really do have to prioritize those safety elements,” Cawein said. 

Cawein also noted that once a list of projects is completed he may look into trying to get more funding through private and public means. 

Sportspark was built in 1984 as a softball tournament complex. The project was privately funded and the Tucson Bowling Corporation and its assignees operated the park for more than two decades. Since the original construction there have not been a lot of further investments into the park, save for some major lighting modifications made after community complaints regarding light pollution. 

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