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After 5 Years, City Balks at Baseball Plan

August 04, 1994|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A San Pedro company's plan to turn a dusty 15-acre lot into a bustling baseball complex with five state-of-the-art fields struck out this week when Los Angeles city officials terminated its lease.

Despite raising more than $400,000 in five years, San Pedro Baseball Inc. failed to construct a single base path on the city-owned site in the 1900 block of North Gaffey Street.

"We think that it's absolutely a crying shame that this money has produced basically nothing," said Barry Glickman, a spokesman for Los Angeles City Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who represents San Pedro. Svorinich wrote a letter to the city General Services Department in April calling for the lease to end Monday.

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The money, including a $250,000 donation from Unocal Corp., has been spent on plans and preliminary work, and the project is $10,000 in debt, said Gary Miley, president of the company.

San Pedro Baseball Inc. signed a $1-a-year lease with the city in 1989 with the understanding that baseball fields would be built for area youth. The project was dubbed "Field of Dreams," and collection cans were placed in shops around town.

But, over the years, the company raised less than one-third of its $1.6-million goal, and completed only an initial grading of the site.

"You'd have to say the community wasn't really behind this project 100%," Miley said. "I think that's disappointing."

Other than minor improvements to the grounds, the only indication of a dream on the site today is a large sign on a grassy knoll that faces traffic on Gaffey Street. But like the worn letters on an old, beat-up baseball jersey, the paint heralding the future "Joan Milke Flores San Pedro Baseball Complex" has faded over the years.

Miley said his dream to build fields is still alive. The San Pedro longshoreman disputes the city's termination of the lease and still hopes a portion of the project can be completed.

In a letter terminating the lease, city officials said the company violated the agreement because it failed to build any fields on the site and provide proof of insurance, and because company officials admitted they allowed another party to store sand on the lot.

But Miley said the city never imposed a deadline for construction of the fields and insisted the firm does have adequate insurance coverage. In addition, he said the company received a donation for allowing sand to be stored on the site.

Miley said he delivered a letter to City Hall last week detailing his complaints.

He said San Pedro Baseball Inc. is awaiting a $5-million donation from an international trust company in San Diego that has requested anonymity. He told city officials last year he was awaiting the funds, but the money never materialized.

As for the lack of progress on the site, Miley said the project became mired in red tape and unexpected construction costs.

When the company signed the lease, Miley said he was unaware of the problems posed by a nearby flood control channel, railroad tracks and underground pipelines. He was surprised to learn the company would have to pay $100,000 to build railroad crossing gates, he said.

"At every turn of a corner, we just ran into a ton of obstacles," Miley said. "It just seemed like it was always something."

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Unocal Corp., which has a plant in nearby Wilmington, originally pledged $300,000 toward the project, but oil company officials elected not to donate the remaining $50,000 last year because of the lack of improvements to the site.

The project's failure has disappointed San Pedro sports enthusiasts.

"There's such an obscene need for any recreational space," said Mel Bobich, chairman of the San Pedro recreational task force. Baseball players in the area have a difficult time finding places to play, he said.

Glickman said the city likely will solicit proposals to build fields from other groups in the area.

"We'd like to regroup and give (the land) to some organization that will deliver," he said.

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