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BREAKING GROUND June 22; Semi-pro baseball coming to downtown Utica

After fighting for development in her city for well over 20+ years, Utica mayor’s dreams will become a reality over the course of the next year

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BREAKING GROUND June 22; Semi-pro baseball coming to downtown Utica

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The sport of baseball is America’s pastime for a reason; from the familiar smells of freshly grilled hot dogs and freshly cut grass, to the sight of a ball being hit towards the seemingly endless horizon. Even if you were to close your eyes, you could still hear the distinct sounds of the sport from a ball popping a mitt to the sound of a Louisville Slugger cracking at the handle.

These smells, sights, and sounds are planned for the arrival for the downtown Utica area as early as May of 2016.

Jacqueline Noonan, the Mayor of Utica, is very optimistic about the project. Noonan was a teacher at Eisenhower High, but has roots in Utica High through her daughters, one of which is co-op coordinator Katie Lelito.

“The stadium is going to be a big asset to the community,” Noonan said. “It’s going to create some jobs, and it’s going to have something for everyone. It’s in a great location.”

As of right now, the site plans project that ten full time jobs will be created from this project, with around 100 part time jobs to help with construction and maintenance.

“I’ve been supportive about this project since day one,” Noonan said. “For the last 28 years I’ve been trying to fill those brown fields; this is a perfect situation for them to get filled out.”

The brown fields used to be a dumping ground in Utica, and because of that, the soil is tainted and unsuitable for people to live on. That means no apartments, homes, or condos could have been constructed in that space.

Since the announcements on the park have been known for the better part of the year, the next progression in this process is the ground breaking.

“We did an announcement a few months ago, ground breaking will probably be in June,” Noonan said. “General Sports and Entertainment is handling all of that.”

The company sponsoring the ground breaking and the build is General Sports and Entertainment, which is located in the Rochester area. According to Utica-Events.com, the groundbreaking is scheduled for June 22.

The company is privately funding this project, the figure estimate is in the ballpark of around 14 million.

With the ballpark located on Auburn Road in downtown Utica, there are also plans to clean the Clinton River and build a bridge for pedestrians to cross.

Utica’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) owns the land the projected stadium and parking lot will be placed on. General Sports and Entertainment entered in a deal with the DDA to lease the land for “a $1 a year lease,” according to Noonan.

General Sports and Entertainment is heading a three three team league, all of which are going to be independent, semi-pro teams.

“Right now the season will be from around May or early June to August,” Noonan said. “I’m excited about the games; this gives players from all around the area to start playing again.”

However, an interesting fact about independent semi-pro leagues and teams is that a handful of Major League Baseball players have played semi-pro baseball. This list includes former Boston Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, and current New York Yankee infielder Stephen Drew; yes the two are related. The list also includes former Detroit Tiger and current Washington National Max Scherzer, and Kansas City Royal Luke Hochevar.

“Players like that can increase the prestige of an independent league,” Noonan said. “Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in the league today.”

Possible game times are also being discussed.

“Game times are going to fall between traffic hours spanning from around four to six,” Noonan said. “I think that would be the best times to schedule the games.”

The ticket prices will remain cheap, $5-$7 during the summer.

“In general, pricing hasn’t happened yet,” Noonan said, “but plan on it being very family friendly.”

Baseball isn’t the only thing that is going to be going on at the new stadium; the stadium will also be available for weddings, birthdays, and other various parties.

“During the summer the city will allow a lot of free use in the stadium,” Noonan said. “There is also going to be a restaurant in the stadium itself.”

A question on a lot of students’ minds is: will any of the high school baseball teams be able to play there?

“Right now the hope is for the UCS teams to be able to play here for their playoff games and divisional rivalry games,” Noonan said. “We don’t have an exact answer, but I can’t see why they wouldn’t be able to.”

According to Noonan, being able to participate in playoff games would be like “making states or finals and playing football at the Silverdome when it was available; it was a great thing.”

Teacher Mark Moehlig has been the head coach of the varsity baseball team for four years, and is excited for the opportunity.

“It would be a unique experience for high school players,” Moehlig said, “and hopefully we get to play our crosstown rivals in front of the whole community.”

The stadium is going to also create new structures and trails along with it for accommodation purposes.

“A $4.5 million dollar grant from the EPA will pay for restoring nine miles of the Clinton River that runs through Shelby Twp. and Utica,” Noonan said, “and $100,000-$400,00 will be spent on a walking bridge connecting the River Bends trail to downtown Utica.”

The bridge will also be an avenue to get to the parking lot for the stadium, of which the parking lot will be a space for approximately 500 cars to park.

However, the River Bends Trail will connect to the northern Stony Creek Metropark trails when construction is done. The trail will then head south along the Clinton River to the Lake St. Clair Metropark, where Metro Beach is located.

This construction will complete a massive trail crisscrossing the whole of Macomb County, allowing plenty of space for family walks and bike rides in the woods. There will also be more spaces for picnics and BMX trails, groomed by park services.

Whether you like baseball or not, the ball park is going to the center of attention in downtown Utica, with the stadium at the forefront of all of these projects and is sure to be the centerpiece.

Stadium MapAustin Kowalczyk

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