October 26, 2014
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Field of dreams

On the surface, the concept looks like a win-win for everyone, and it could well be just that:

Take the Winslow Park softball and soccer fields that are in the path of the Green Airport runway extension and relocate them to the Knight Campus at CCRI.

The benefits are obvious. The players and spectators would no longer be in the shadow and fumes of aircraft traffic; they would move to an accessible site where there appears to be more than enough parking; and CCRI would gain additional fields that it couldn’t afford to build. In addition, with the college’s existing athletic facilities, there’s the potential of creating a first-class softball complex that has the potential to attract regional tournaments, bringing business to area hotels and restaurants.

It could be a boon to the local economy.

As for the money, the sticking point to such dreams, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC), as part of the memorandum of understanding it reached with the City Council, has committed to moving the fields. That commitment is to move the fields to airport property at Cedar Swamp, adjacent to the Lakeshore Drive residential neighborhood near Warwick Pond. The fields would be beside the airport rather than at the end of a runway – indeed, an improvement – and accessible with the extension of the service road to the airport garage and maintenance building off Airport Road.

RIAC calculated the cost of building the Cedar Swamp fields at less than $4 million, but is prepared to allocate $4 million if the city can come up with an alternative site or sites.

At first glance, CCRI seems ideal because the investment would augment existing facilities and offer the potential of so much more. But there are questions. Does CCRI have the space for all the fields; would the leagues have the same privileges in its operations as they do now; what environmental issues and construction problems would the CCRI site pose; and, back to that sticky question, would there be enough money?

Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Council President Bruce Place, Mayor Scott Avedisian, CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale and other city and college officials have started to explore the possibilities.

Preliminary studies will be done.

Already it seems there’s not enough reasonably good space at CCRI to relocate all of the fields. It appears the soccer fields will find a home elsewhere.

There are other options. A reconfiguration and expansion of Mickey Stevens Sports Complex might work, as well as sites at City Park, other city land and even other airport land.

There’s not a lot of time to make decisions.

Under terms of the agreement with the airport, the city has to make a selection by Sept. 1, or RIAC will proceed with the Cedar Swamp location. Construction of the fields would start next year and the plan is to have them ready for play in 2014.

Taking into consideration the leagues, the city, the college and the airport, there are a lot of players at the table. Meeting all those interests and expectations won’t be easy.

But there is also potential for something better than we now have. Let’s see if we can do that.


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