Newly elected Ward 4 Tahlequah City Councilor Trae Ratliff is ready to get his hands dirty in renovations at the beloved Phoenix Park Ball Fields.
The Shelter Insurance agent has shown initiative since taking on his role at the city, and one of his biggest projects is to tackle the eight-field complex. The plan has proved immensely popular with Tahlequah residents.
Ratliff wants to convert the four run-down softball fields into baseball diamonds, and for the entire ballpark to have an efficient drainage system. The fields have sustained significant damage due to standing water, and current drains are clogged with years of debris and rocks.
"Some of the major problems with these fields are run-offs, and that's what all that mess is. What is happening is, all this water is coming down, and it's starting to back-fill and it washes up onto the field," said Ratliff. "The other day when we got 4 inches of rain, I bet all of this was just under water."
Ratliff said he would like to take out all of the chain-link fence, paint the railing black, and give the park a much-needed facelift.
"We have to figure out the layout between the fields and it needs to be - think of a four-leaf clover - you want the concessions and restrooms in the middle. That way, regardless of what field you're at, you don't have to do much walking," he said.
Ratliff has met with Charles Poteet, city parks and recreation director, and the two have discussed plans, costs and goals.
"The first place you have to start is with demolitions, then getting the water under control so the water goes where it's supposed to because if it doesn't, it washes it all out," he said. "I hope for the sake of kids that once we get this all done, they actually show up and can play baseball here."
He said his concerns thus far with renovations are whether it's going to be enough to entice the kids to come back and play. Many have left to join teams in nearby cities.
"If you build it, will they come? That's really from the administrative side, and it's been said that we can't fix it," he said. "They have said they tried that and it didn't work, and that's the challenge I'm up against. I can get the money and we're already working and heading in that direction to make these changes happen."
The next step for Ratliff is to bring cost numbers to the council and Mayor Sue Catron, so a set amount can be put back into the budget. According to the budget, the Bond Improvement Fund has $4,785,000 left. Last week, Ward 3 Councilor Stephen Highers said the remaining amount in the improvement fund is now $4.4 million.
"There's lot of priorities with this money that is left, and the people voted. It said on the ballot that there was going to be a Phoenix Park renovation. In my mind, two buildings and a coat of paint on some cinderblock doesn't really count as renovations," said Ratliff. "This can be fixed right."
Several projects the city has completed, or plans to finish, are listed under the Bond Improvement Fund in the budget. Projects included in the $24 million bond were approved through a vote by local citizens. Going on sale in 2013, bonds under the city's name were listed on the municipal bond market. Investors then purchased the bonds.