Last week softball teammates Rob Lewis and Rand Hatch had their game postponed because the field at Greenacres Junior High was already occupied.
The sport’s popularity here has made such overuse of Valley parks and school facilities all too common. That’s one reason the two softball teammates - and Valley businessmen - want to build Sports World near Liberty Lake.
Plans call for four lighted softball fields, four soccer fields, a health club and indoor soccer facility, along with a restaurant and sports bar just north of Interstate 90 and west of Harvard Road. All will be independently leased from Sports World ownership.
Lewis, the 38-year-old owner of Spokane Structures, announced the ambitious $3 million project last summer, saying Spokane is overdue for such a complex. The proposal gained county approval just this month. This week Lewis said ground breaking for the Sports World fitness center will take place in August or September. The softball fields are scheduled to be seeded next spring and to be ready for play in 1997.
Lewis and Hatch are still lining up financing. “I’m working both with financers and securities people selling stocks,” said Lewis. “The intent is to have a fitness center built by fall, seed the fields by spring and play in 1997.”
The nearly 750 adult teams and 200 youth teams that play softball each summer seriously tax existing facilities.
What happened last week to Lewis and Hatch and their teammates illustrates the problem. “We were scheduled to play ball, teams showed up and all the fields were in use by junior high teams,” Lewis said. “We didn’t get to play.”
Other players in the area have similar complaints. Last summer, Lewis sent a questionnaire to 240 county teams and got 170 responses.
“All were positive,” he said, of the teams’ response to the Sports World proposal. “They’ll make the move. We will use every marketing tool available to keep the fields open all day.”
Hatch, a real estate developer with Jack Hatch Co. and former Freeman High School teacher and coach, secured 32 acres of land just north of I-90 and east of Harvard Road. The land is owned by Valley attorney Howard Herman.
He got past first base in early May by winning zone approval for the project.
“It came to a screeching halt when we battled on the interchange and zoning,” he said. “Now we’re gearing up again.”
The state Department of Transportation initially expressed concerns about how the sports complex would affect traffic. Hatch and a consortium of Liberty Lake developers put together a plan to assess themselves with impact fees and phase in construction of side roads to appease the DOT.
The proposal also ran into trouble when the Spokane County Hearing Examiner Committee refused to grant a request for a zone change to allow development of Sports World. However, when the committee reconsidered the project earlier this month, approval of the zone change was granted.
Sports World will bring further development to the rapidly growing Liberty Lake area.
“There is amazing support from Liberty Lake,” said Hatch, a lifetime resident there. ” People can’t wait.”
Lewis’ company will construct the project and his family will have the restaurant and sports bar, Home Plate Bar and Grill.
Hatch’s main responsibility is the 22,000-square foot health club, which will offer weights and exercise machines, aerobic equipment, a jogging track, court area, indoor soccer and perhaps a lap pool.
Manny Faridnia, Herman’s son-inlaw and an area soccer coach, is the principal in the outdoor soccer complex.
Sports World would become the second privately owned softball complex in the area. Quad Parks in Post Falls was the first, and Quad Parks operator Bob Townsend will jointly operate the Sports World softball program.
With eight lighted fields and many motels in the corridor, the two softball facilities could attract national tournaments.
“It’s also the opportunity for fast pitch and modified leagues in the Valley, where right now they are only in the city,” said Hatch.
Although Coeur d’Alene has a five-field facility, Spokane Metro Softball Association is planning construction of five fields in North Spokane, and Spokane County has land for a similar complex at Plantes Ferry Park, Lewis and Hatch say they aren’t concerned about oversaturation.
They cite Townsend’s facility is a reason they’re not. He started Quad Park eight years ago with 12 teams while the Coeur d’Alene Parks Department recreational league had 106. Since then his league has grown to over 100 teams, and Coeur d’Alene still has more than 80.
“A lot of teams will go to the new complex if it’s a class operation,” Townsend said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Spokane County Parks Department softball coordinator Randy Johnson admitted Sports World would affect his 230-team program.
“What I’ve noticed is some of the top teams have moved to Post Falls,” he said. “They have nicely groomed fields and concessions with beer.”
They’ve been replaced in the county by recreational teams who are out for social and recreational fun, he said, and like the philosophy of the county league.
“Competition is a fact of life,” said Johnson. “Some might change, but people tell us they appreciate us accommodating their wishes for geographical locations (at neighborhood parks).”
Both Johnson and Hatch see the addition of Sports World as a winning proposition for all concerned.
Not only will it provide quality softball fields in the Valley, Hatch said, but it will free up school facilities for youth activities. Johnson said Sports World would enable the county to provide other recreational services.