After all that has been said about the Field of Dreams, the City Council can’t come to a consensus on development of the project.
A week ago, the city of Gillette advertised for bids for the first phase of the project — development of eight fastpitch softball fields that can be used by both girls fastpitch and Little League teams, as well as all of the infrastructure associated with those fields.
The council plans to consider the bids for the estimated $10 million project in the middle of December. But some council members think the project is moving too fast and they may be sending a wrong signal to local contractors should the council vote not to award the bid.
And that is a possibility.
Should it be done now?
When the council decided in June to spend $627,088 for a consultant to come up with a specific design for the Field of Dreams, three members of the council opposed the decision. Councilmen Everett Boss, Kevin McGrath and Robin Kuntz voted against the study. The other four members supported it.
Although the project is open for bid now, they are still against the project for the same reasons: They believe it’s the wrong time to develop it.
“It’s been a really sore subject for me. The council never said we want it to bid. That’s the mayor moving forward,” Boss said. “I’m not against the land, the 320 acres. I think it’s a good thing. As far as putting in the fields now, I think it’s the wrong time to do it.”
Before the council proceeds with the project, the city needs to complete the $225 million Madison pipeline project, he said.
“We are just getting (the Madison project) off the ground and it’s a four- to five-year project. What kind of a signal are we sending to Cheyenne ... even though this is only phase 1?” Boss said.
“This first phase is probably the most expensive phase of the bunch in the middle of what I call a turndown of our economy, when people are laying off workers at the mines and shutting down trucks and the concerns about coal in the future. And we are going to do a park?” he said. “I think we need to get ourselves focused.”
Boss also said the city needs to have its partners in place before starting. Projects of this nature traditionally have included agreements from multiple partners, such as the school district and the County Commission. But that is not the case with the Field of Dreams so far.
Kuntz echoed his concerns that the timing for the project isn’t right when the city has more pressing needs, such as water.
Mayor Tom Murphy said the city has enough money to pay for construction of the phase, which will address the longtime need of two groups in the community.
“Our reserves that we set aside are the highest they’ve ever been. We have the money to build it,” he said.
The city has about $12 million in its unencumbered reserved, City Administrator Carter Napier said.
He specified that it doesn’t mean all that money is designated for construction on the Field of Dreams.
The field will be an asset that will help diversify Gillette’s economy, Murphy told other council members Tuesday as they disagreed again with the city’s direction.
It will bring people for national tournaments and generate revenue through sales and lodging taxes, like they do in communities smaller than Gillette, like Scottsbluff, Neb., Murphy said.
He also believes that an economic downturn might be the right time to invest.
Murphy said times of bust are the times for investing in infrastructure because it saves taxpayer money.
“We had just gone through building $40 million worth of roads in our community, which could have been done for $25 million in the previous four years in the time of a bust. But instead we built them in the time of a boom, which costs our taxpayers much more money,” he said.
“This is a long-term plan to build incrementally as we can afford it and that I believe in the long-term is the best use of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
Because local contractors are desperate for work, the city may get a good price on the bid, he said.
But there are still uncertainties about the project, such as how the property would be irrigated, which need to be figured out before the project is opened for bid, Boss said. In the end, if one of the council members changes his or her mind about the project, the city won’t award the bid.
“That’s not fair to our contractors to go out to bid when we really don’t know we want to move forward with the project,” he said. “All it takes is one vote. Ted (Jerred) moves the other direction, guess what? They do all this work, and it’s a lot of work to do this bid. Then they are sitting there with all this work and no money. Ted has been on the fence all along.”
Jerred couldn’t be reached for comment before press deadline.
Boss’ term on the council will expire in December and Forrest Rothleutner will take his seat.
Rothleutner doesn’t support the project for the same reasons as other council members who oppose building the fields.
“My stance during the campaign was I think right now is not a good time for it and that’s what my stance will continue to be once I’m on the council,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of projects that need to be completed. We don’t know what our revenue is going to be for the next couple of years.”
One of those projects is the Madison pipeline, he said.
State funding for that project is in question because the federal government cut off Abandoned Mine Lands money to the state.
“It will be more wise to see how the cards fall rather than running in and doing this big project,” Rothleutner said. “We really don’t know what we can expect from the state on the water project.”