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Ripon OKs $5M for four Mistlin softball fields
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RIPON – The Mistlin Sports Park plan received the green light on Tuesday.

The Ripon City Council voted 3-2 to go ahead with the revenue-generating project consisting of four softball fields and other amenities. Elden “Red” Nutt, who was appointed mayor during the reorganizational part of the meeting, and Dean Uecker provided the dissenting votes.

“(We’re) gambling with redevelopment funds and money from our taxpayers,” said Nutt, who had concerns about the tough economy, in particular, the need for the housing and construction in Ripon to continue improving in order to help pay back the loan.

“We’re putting all our eggs in one basket.”

Uecker added, “I support this project 100 percent but timing is everything. Right now, I have a hard time taking money from redevelopment money.”

Council agreed to take out a loan of over $5 million from the city’s Redevelopment Agency to the Parks Fund. The money would be repaid over time through the Public Facility Financing Plan.

Kye Stevens, director of Parks and Recreation, anticipates the demands to be there for softball tournament bookings.

“I’m guessing, conservatively, about 40 weekends (out of 52 weeks a year) and 45 to 48 weekends if we go with the synthetic (all-weather) infield,” he said.

Council, under the recommendation of Garry Krebbs, opted to go with the line items consisting of synthetic or “skin” – a natural surface made of clay and cinder mixture as used at the Community Center baseball fields – along with kiosks and directional signs.

The latter items at Mislin Sports Park would benefit out-of-towners on getting around to the various restaurants and businesses in Ripon.

Council members are also banking that Jack Tone businesses along with that of downtown will flourish under the plan. They’re also hoping for construction such as hotels in the Mistlin Park area for the foreseeable future.

Councilman Chuck Winn noted that tournaments attract large bookings for accommodations, spanning from Ripon and Manteca to as far away as Turlock.

Potentially, the new fields could generate anywhere between $140,000 (with skin infields) and $160,000 (synthetic) in rentals for baseball and softball leagues, tournaments, and concessions as part of the total revenue.

Stephanie Hobbs along with members and supporters of the Ripon Community Athletic Foundation believed that redevelopment money could have been better served on renovating Stouffer Field.

For the past three years, they’ve worked diligently on raising money to bring Stouffer Field, the otherwise dilapidated football / track facility at Ripon High, to the 21st Century.

“We would need $2.25 million for the (all-weather) track, football field, bleachers and restrooms,” she said.

Chris Johnson, RHS athletic director and football coach, said, via a letter read out aloud by Vince Hobbs of RCAF, “The track is unusable and unsafe and we’re forced to go off campus for soccer.”

Earlier in the day, some 200 RHS students inked their signatures on a petition against the Mistlin Park plan.

“We’re not against the softball project – it’s gorgeous – but Stouffer Field should be the top priority,” said Stephanie Hobbs, who added that RCAF has raised nearly $300,000 thanks to the support of 89 businesses and 90 community members in this grass-root effort.

Although deterred by Council’s decision, she vowed to continue her efforts to improve Stouffer Field and making it the centerpiece of Ripon.

“I wish I was Santa Claus and grant everyone’s wish, but that’s just not possible,” said Winn, who noted that the Mislin project was the only one out there with the promise of a return from the investment.

The project will be brought back to Council at a future session with more details of the four softball fields planned for construction around the water tower, said City Engineer Kevin Werner.

Tony Mislin, for whom the sports park is named after, has offered to contract directly with a separate contractor or contractors to construct the landscaping, construction stands, and maintenance shed – not part of the City’s proposed project – at a cost not exceeding $1 million.

“I want Ripon to be a destination,” he said.