by ADAM GRUENEWALD
Constructed in 1914, the iconic Wrigley Field was without lights until 1988.
It was about that time, including a 1989 proposal for the 1990 budget, when the concept of adding lights, using those from old Met Stadium, to Cologne’s baseball field were first discussed.
About 30 years later on Monday, Nov. 4, Cologne council members approved lights for Robert G. Memorial Fritz Field, 3-2 with Jeff McInnis and Scott Williams opposing.
The city will be paying the full $151,956 cost of the project and will be repaid in three installments by the Cologne Baseball Association.
Dating back to its current location as early as the 1940s, the park added a retaining wall and two dugouts in 1998, when the field was named in honor of Robert G. Fritz, a former player and manager.
During the recent meeting attended by about 20 supporters, Craig Pexa and Darrin Good of the Cologne Baseball Association presented the project with Craig Gallop of Iowa-based Musco Lighting.
Included in the project is the installation of six poles, two each along the dugouts, down the lines and in the outfield.
“Musco is a very advanced technological company when it comes to athletic field lighting of control of fill and glare light,” said Gallop, said athletic lighting is the company’s focus. “What we’re able to do with our system is concentrate the light on the field so… people will see light but it won’t be that harsh lighting.”
Gallop explained once people get about 60 feet away from the field it is dark because the lights are concentrated.
“So many baseball, athletic fields are in the middle of residential areas,” he said. “With our technology we’re able to solve those problems.”
Installation of the poles and bases will take place early next year while the ground is frozen. Initial groundwork will be done this fall with electrical completed next spring.
Good and Pexa, who have spoken with neighbors of the park, touted the benefits of the project as the field continues to expand in use, hosting about 60 games this past year, including sharing the District 3 Legion Tournament with Norwood which drew between 1,700 and 1,800 fans.
With the addition of lights, the Cologne Hollanders will no longer be among the six teams which don’t have lights out of the 15 teams in the Crow River Valley Baseball League. Among those with lights include Hamburg, Norwood and Young America, while New Germany, Mayer, Carver, Plato and St. Bonifacious do not have lights.
Speaking after the meeting, both Pexa and Good were pleased with the acceptance and said it is a project for the community.
“I’m looking forward to building more community events and community interaction,” he said. “The ball club is a big part of this and is leading this, but we’re working with other organizations to continue to have pride in our city.”
Pexa agreed, saying the field could host other events, such as Music in the Park or Fireworks.
“For me this is about the community,” he said, calling the field a “focal point for the community.” “The town team is one entity… There are many other teams and organizations. It will benefit the community.”
Good said efforts in the past three years to update the council on the project helped the vote.
“I think we’ve been trying to let the city and council members we we’re serious about this,” he said. “We knew they were on board and understood we are diligently working…. we’re well on our way to do our part.”
While council members McInnis and Williams were not opposed to the concept of the project, they voted against it because of budget concerns.
“We need to look at priorities on what sorts of projects we’re going to set at the top of our priority list and what’s going to be the last thing we touch,” said McInnis, advocating for roads and infrastructure and sewer. “I would love to see the field, I like watching baseball over there. But that’s a superficial thing and that’s something… we need the infrastructure to carry the water away and bring the water to houses. We need the roads to be good. People come into a town and, like our town before the roads got graded, they went downtown and saw the potholes and said ‘this town’s in disrepair.’ That stuff needs to be fixed. I just think the approach we’re taking is kind of scary.
Williams shared the concern.
“We’re getting into this spending mode again and this has got to stop,” said Williams. “I’m sorry… Projects are good but we’re sitting here saying ‘let’s look at a budget’ ‘let’s see some numbers.’”
The city’s payment of the project will come from a fund designated for trails, and payments will replace those annually, according to City Administrator John Hendel.
“We would have the funds available to be able to absorb that,” he said, adding they can collect funds from the Baseball Association and can repay themselves as well by setting aside money each year. “I think it’s a good project for our city. We’re one of the last communities around here that doesn’t have lights on their field. I think there’s a lot of things with potential to happen in the next two to five years with our community… to keep people here and see what we have to offer. This type of investment just shows people that much more that we’re committed to our city, we want to make sure people are coming to town to enjoy some stuff and ultimately from that, we hopefully grow.”
Good, the Baseball Association’s treasurer, said they will have the funds available to pay back their portion in the coming years as they will owe the city three installments, two full payments of about $30,000 in 2014 and 2015, and another partial payment in 2016.
“We’re prepared to work with the city and pay back our portion,” he said. “The next step is to work with the city and lock in the details of the agreement with Musco.”
Good said that typically the town team schedule is set it March, and other games and tournaments work around that. Day games will likely continue to occur on the weekends.
“I would anticipate day games on Sunday,” he said. “We’ll definitely have some night games for town teams… we look forward to have some night games.”
Council members budget uncertainty carried over to the next issue of the night, as council members unanimously agreed to table the acceptance of a Public Facilities Authority loan for a sewer repair project.
As reported in September, the city first started looking at the potential project in 2008. There are two main issues that would be resolved by the project with an estimated cost of $560,000 and anticipated construction as early as July 2014.
One is concerning essentially two separate systems and the other is an aging water main.
A new main would be larger and also connect with the County 36 water main line, which would be replaced up to Paul Avenue, creating two connections.
The other facet of the project is the replacement of an older main along Lake Street that is wearing out and has had four water main breaks in the last four years.
The project is being brought up again because, unlike in the past, it now qualifies for state-funded Public Facilities Authority financing, giving the city a better benefit in terms of loan interest payments at under 2 percent, or as low as 1.75 percent, well below a standard bond. The PFA could save the city as much as $100,000 over a 20-year loan.
In other news, council members set Dec. 2 as the date for the truth-in-taxation hearing, tabled an extension with New Ulm Telecom for cable TV and approved the closure of city hall on Dec. 24, in addition to Dec. 25. Public services staff would still be on call in the event of a snowstorm or emergency.
The Cologne City Council will next meet on Monday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]