New sports complex opens in Berkeley
on September 10, 2008
Plenty of people were eager to talk about Berkeley’s new sports fields complex. Mayors and city officials from five East Bay cities – Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Richmond and Albany – lined up on Saturday to address the crowd of two hundred onlookers who came to celebrate the grand opening of the two new multi-purpose fields.
The celebration had all the trappings of an opening ceremony: a podium, folding chairs for the crowd, a ribbon waiting to be cut. But the podium and chairs looked out of place on the freshly painted synthetic turf, and the ribbon was stretched not across a doorway, but between the posts of a soccer goal. This is a sports field, after all. While the officials talked and the adults listened, the children in the crowd were busy putting the field to use, starting impromptu games of soccer and ultimate frisbee. Once the ribbon was cut, the adults started kicking around soccer balls as well, and the Tom Bates Regional Sports Complex was officially open for business.
The complex, located at 400 Gilman Street, is situated between two quintessentially East Bay landmarks: the constant blur of traffic on the 580 freeway to the east, and the more serene vista of the bay’s eastern shoreline to the west. Officials estimated that a quarter of a million people would use the new facilities.
“I think it’s amazing. It’s beautiful,” said Albany resident Loretta Kane, who stopped by to admire the new complex. Kane’s husband, Ron Rosenbaum said he believed the new fields would fill a need in the community. “From the perspective of the schools, there were just not enough sports fields,” said Rosenbaum, a former principal of Albany High School.
The complex is available to all residents of Alameda county, and demand is high. According to Doug Fielding, director of the Association of Sports Field Users, which handles scheduling for the complex as well as thirty other fields in the area, the new fields are fully booked by local sports teams until March. “Most of the slots were booked in fifteen minutes,” said Fielding. “People already knew about this place.”
Oakland teams are welcome to participate in the scheduling meetings, held twice a year in April and October. But mention of the city was largely absent from Saturday’s activities. According to Fielding, Oakland was approached to join the project, but the city, then under the mayorship of Jerry Brown, declined. Fielding said considered this a missed opportunity. “Oakland, for [spending] peanuts, could’ve been a sixth city in this partnership,” he said. Officials at Oakland’s Department of Parks and Recreation said they were unaware if the city was approached about the project.
Roger Miller, Berkeley’s project manager for the sports complex, said that each of the five cities involved contributed approximately $50,000 to the project. The final tab for the complex was $20 million. More than a quarter of the cost was covered by funds set aside by Measure AA, a twenty-year bond measure dedicated to regional parks passed by voters in 1988. Activists were on hand Saturday to promote Measure WW, an extension of Measure AA that will be on the ballots in November. City, regional and state offices combined efforts to raise the rest of the funding, including securing grants from the California State Parks and a charitable contribution from Magna Entertainment Corporation, which previously owned the land. The day-to-day maintenance of the complex will be administered by a joint power authority consisting of the five participating cities.
Although the fields are now completed, the drive continues to raise money for the maintenance and expansion of the complex. “This is the beginning, but the job is not done,” said Bates, who cited a softball diamond and an athletes’ fieldhouse as future additions to the complex. “It all depends on contributions,” said Bates.
The new facilities would cost at least $3-4 million in additional funds. Bates said he hoped a potential partnership with College Preparatory School in Oakland would help with the fundraising. Other officials said future plans for the location included preservation efforts at the East Bay shoreline and extension of the Bay Trail. Said Doug Fielding, “I hope that this is the beginning of one of the great shoreline parks in the world.”
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