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City officials OK with leasing local baseball stadium for 34 games

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council is supporting the concept of a five-year lease with the Northwoods League baseball organization of Rochester for 34-game use of Taunton Stadium.

The council approved the lease concept Tuesday night and authorized city staff to make the necessary agreements.

The league had its inaugural season in 1994 with five teams. The league has grown to 14 teams in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Canada, playing 68 games in 74 days. League organizers are looking to establish a new team franchise in Willmar, council members were told.

"We've had our eye on Willmar for a couple of years now,'' said Dick Radatz Jr., league president and co-founder. "We played a couple of games here a couple of years ago. It seemed to be received rather well and gave us a preview of coming attractions.''

Radatz said Ryan Voz and Marc Jersach, who have worked in the league for a number of years, are the prospective team owners.

The league is a member of the Summer Collegiate Baseball Association. All players are collegiate athletes and must be enrolled in college and have eligibility remaining in order to play, said Radatz. College players stay in the homes of volunteer families and get involved in the community, he said.

Radatz said the talent level has increased immensely over the past 16 years. During the last two seasons in the respective major league drafts of 2008 and 2009, the league had 277 players taken in those two drafts including the fourth overall pick in the last draft.

Radatz said the games are a "fun, family-friendly, affordable increase in quality of life I would think in the communities that we have now and it's been very well-received.''

The lease concept was recommended by the council's Public Works/Safety Committee. Doug Reese, committee chairman, said he remembers watching city baseball games as a youth and said he was excited about the concept.

Under the five-year lease, the city will commit to 34 games at Taunton Stadium plus playoffs and receive $300 per game. The city will maintain the restrooms, bleachers and field; commit full concession rights to the league; commit advertising sign revenue to support league costs; and direct the city attorney to amend the municipal code to grant the league a 3.2 percent malt liquor license.

Council member Steve Ahmann asked if the Willmar Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars had been notified about the concept.

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said the city had a two-year contract with the VFW Men's Auxiliary to run the concessions in 2008 and 2009. Under the new lease, Halliday said, the Legion or VFW will have to go to the league, which will make those final decisions.

Steve Brisendine, director of Community Education and Recreation, addressed the concern about field availability for local teams such as the VFW, Legion, Rails and rec teams. He said league representatives have attended two meetings of the Community Education and Recreation Advisory Council and the concept has been discussed with current users.

He said theoretically there are plenty of opportunities for everybody to play at Taunton Stadium. The city will submit 45 open dates for the league to schedule its 34 games at Taunton Stadium.

During the last two years, there probably have been closer to 47 or 48 open dates with no organized games at the stadium, Brisendine said.

In other business, the council voted to seek price quotes from private contractors for street sweeping service for a one-year period.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150