City makes right call on moving bond funds from Twins

Published 3:46 pm Monday, April 23, 2018

Sometimes in a rocky relationship, it’s best to step back and think about what’s best for both parties.

That was the mentality Elizabethton City Council had last week during a budget workshop, as they unanimously agreed to move $1.5 million worth of bond funding away from renovations at Joe O’Brien Field — home of the Elizabethton Twins Minor League baseball team — to go toward other pressing needs within the community. The movement of bond funding will be made official following the passage of the 2018-19 fiscal year budget — which will come during an upcoming Council meeting. City leaders will meet in two more budget workshops to finalize the budget.

Since August 2017, Council officially put $1.5 million on the table to assist with renovations at Joe O’Brien, which would go toward the construction of a new clubhouse and fan amenities.

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But one term on using the funding was to receive a financial commitment from the Minnesota Twins front office to assist with the project. From August all the way to last Tuesday’s budget workshop, the Twins have not made a financial commitment to help.

During the Tuesday workshop, where the Elizabethton Star was the lone media representative in attendance, the decision was made by Council after Mayor Curt Alexander presented an agreement between Minnesota and Populous, Inc. The agreement would feature no city insight. According the agreement, if a bid was out of the projected budget for renovations, the project would not happen. If the bid was within budget, the city was going to be asked to reimburse Minnesota $142,000 for the drawings — on top of providing the designated monies.

The city can use the bond note — worth a little over $2.6 million — for capital expenditures which, according to Tennessee Code Annotated 9-21-105, can go toward “development, construction, equipping and improvement of public buildings and facilities for police and public safety purposes, public parks, playgrounds, ballparks and other recreational facilities.”

With such a heavy price tag in play, it’s best to use the funding elsewhere that can assist with immediate needs within the city to encourage economic growth instead of it just laying dormant.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Council continued its stance to contribute $1 million of the bond note to work with helping the Elizabethton Police Department begin work on the old Ritchie’s building to assist with operations. The Elizabethton Fire Department, Bonnie Kate Theater, Covered Bridge Park and Elizabethton Golf Course were all brought up as possible landing points for the additional bond funding. The development of a sports complex within the city was also brought up as far as projects that can benefit from the bond note.

Mayor Curt Alexander stated during Tuesday’s meeting that he’s ready to see some of the projects get started to make an impact in the community.

When priming an area for visitors, you have to take advantage of the resources available. Elizabethton has two rivers in the city and a slew of community parks that the public can take advantage of throughout the year. With work already going on at the Elizabethton Golf Course by the staff of Hampton Golf, additional funding can only help grow the course into becoming even more of a resource for city development and attracting business.

Placing additional funds inside the Bonnie Kate can also pay dividends for economic development. The facility is becoming a focal point in improving the downtown area. A slew of activities are already taking place inside the building and the addition of Red Chili will only direct more patrons to the Bonnie Kate. Bond funding is reportedly going to be directed to help with the roof and windows of the building. Bonnie Kate isn’t the only plan for downtown with the city looking at the possibility of putting in a facade loan program in the 2018-19 fiscal year budget to assist with priming the area for more businesses. The funding is also an obvious need for the emergency personnel within the city. City police and firefighters are long overdue for the support.

None of this is to say Minor League Baseball isn’t an asset. The site breaks in people from across the region, but the city typically breaks even when it comes to handling its current team.  The Twins — which pulled their one-third contribution for stadium renovation a couple of years back — will be in Elizabethton during the 2018 season. Following that season, it will be time to renovate the field to put the facility in compliance with MiLB regulations. If the Twins and the city are unable to come to an agreement, the ability to house another team could be in play, with sources confirming that other clubs are have reportedly expressed interest in Elizabethton due to its proximity within the Tri-Cities. That could lead to the possibility of bringing in a management firm or going another route to keep minor league baseball going and address work at the facility along with creating different avenues to bring in additional revenue. The decision isn’t being taken lightly. A partnership in play since the 1970s, city leaders stated they would still be willing to come back to the table with the Twins, if they are still interested, to form an agreement to benefit both parties for the future.

There’s only so long you can sit on your laurels before steps need to be taken to encourage growth. Moving forward on projects that can make an impact and utilizing Joe O’Brien Field for events to bolster the economy is the right move for bringing in people to the community.

If the Twins and the city can work together in the future, then fantastic. If not, it’s best to end the standoff and move forward with the best interest of the citizens in mind.

Curtis Carden is an award-winning journalist and columnist in Northeast Tennessee. To contact Curtis, call (423) 297-9057 or email