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Ripon wants to play ball but state is holding the $4 million
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Ripon community benefactor Tony Mistlin looks over plans for the proposed softball park addition to the 125-acre sports park on River Road just east of Jack Tone Road. Mistlin has donated $2 million to the $6 million project awaiting a decision of the California Supreme Court. - photo by GLENN KAHL

RIPON — A planned $6 million dollar softball complex designed with four diamonds circling the Mistlin Sports Park water tower could be an economic boon for Ripon restaurant and hotel business.

That is the opinion of City Administrator Leon Compton and community benefactor Tony Mistlin who has already committed $2 million to the project.

Redevelopment funds for the project that are already in the city coffers have been put into a state of limbo pending the California Supreme Court’s decision expected in January regarding the future of redevelopment agencies up and down the state. The court will decide whether Assembly Bill 27 that essentially allowed the seizure of the funds is constitutional and whether the AB 26 mandate should reroute the funds to the state’s schools.

The City of Ripon had requested the consideration of state leaders to amend AB 1X26 to allow redevelopment agencies that have loaned money to their legislative bodies to honor those commitments.

Compton said the city was ready with completed plans the first of July to move ahead on the development of the softball complex addition to the park. In less than a week later the California Legislature put the brakes on using the funds.

The city administrator said that within the last 10 to 15 years the state has called back millions of dollars from the City of Ripon as it has in other communities throughout California.

“When we have an event at the sports park, the restaurants are packed to the point they have to bring in extra help,” he said, claiming that the addition of a softball complex will create even more of a need for hotel rooms and restaurants – serving as an economic catalyst.

 The city has already invested about half a million dollars in the design and planning elements for the complex.  The proposed project includes not only four softball fields but restroom, concession stands, lighting and warm-up areas.

The City of Ripon has already invested some $15 million in the existing facility that hosts various Olympic Development program soccer tournaments, baseball tournaments and the Color the Skies Hot Air Balloon Festival along with the annual Almond Blossom fete.

Compton reemphasized that the sports facility has continued to draw competitors from outside the community and outside the state with teams looking for a venue to serve their competitions.  They leave their sales tax monies as well as provide income for the restaurants in town.

The city administrator opined that without the weekend demand on the area restaurants, they wouldn’t be able to survive just on their local clientele.  He said Ripon citizens have the varied selection of restaurants only because of the sports park’s contributions with their weekend athletes using those facilities.

He noted that the Ripon citizens now benefit from the influx of “comp soccer teams” and their tournaments coming from the Bay Area cities as well as from the northern and central valleys.  Ripon is a clean community that people enjoy visiting, he added, having very few police problems at the field during the tournaments.

Compton said the soccer tournament fields are reserved for weekends, but there is no play during the week to keep the funds coming.  Also, the fields have to be left unused for a couple of weeks between games for upkeep maintenance or they will turn into mud holes, he added.

The Ripon Redevelopment Agency board composed of council members directed city staff to move ahead with the project in November of last year.  The agency subsequently approved a loan in February to be made to the city’s Park Capital Fund to provide for the construction.

The project design was completed in the early summer of 2010 and bids were received on July 6 with the city council expected to award the construction contract for the development.

During the 12-month period of construction the project is expected to create some 125 jobs and provide the city with an additional $160,000 of revenue annually once the complex is in operation. 

Compton feared without the project moving forward that the city could lose the $2 million Tony Mistlin donation.  The city through the redevelopment agency is contributing over $3 million to the construction of the ball diamonds with their concession stands surrounding the water tower.

He added that there are three things in the community that have put Ripon on the map to motorists driving down Highway 99:  Starbucks, the water tower at Jack Tone Road and the Mistlin Sports Park.

The city received some $75,000 in hotel tax just last year, Compton pointed out.