Vail’s Ford Park fields to close next year
VAIL — The Vail Lacrosse Shootout doesn’t start until this weekend, but David Soren is already looking forward to 2015.
Soren, one of the organizers of the lacrosse tournament — now in its 41st year in Vail — has been talking with town and Vail Recreation District representatives for about a year, trying to plan for next year, when the fields at Ford Park will be closed over the summer.
The fields will shut down after this season, in preparation for an ambitious plan that will reconfigure the playing fields. That work will put the fields out of action until 2015.
The project is part of a package of spending approved by Vail voters in 2011. In that election, the town proposed several projects to use roughly $10 million raised by a lodging tax first intended to build a conference center. That tax was dropped in the mid-2000s, when the Vail Town Council decided the conference center would be too expensive to build, even with the lodging tax.
That spending program included renovations to the Vail Golf Club, the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and the fields at Ford Park. The golf course plan — specifically, the plan to replace the current clubhouse — is currently the subject of a lawsuit against the town, filed by homeowners in the neighborhood. The second part of the amphitheater plan is also on hold, pending a rewrite of the town’s management plan for the park.
But the first round of improvements to the amphitheater was unveiled this spring, and the athletic fields will have a new restroom facility and new concession stand.
The field replacement was set to start this year, but Vail Recreation District board member Rick Sackbauer said the project was delayed in order to give more time to plan how to accommodate local athletes and the large tournaments that use the park every year.
For the Lacrosse Shootout, that means moving the tournament’s main stage to the town’s old athletic field next year and playing more games in Eagle-Vail and Edwards. Soren said next year’s tournament will also require more players and spectators to be shuttled around in buses to avoid a parking crunch.
Sackbauer acknowledged that accommodating tournaments at different fields “won’t come without a struggle.” But, he said, the tournaments that come to the area are too important not to do whatever’s necessary to keep them in the Vail Valley.
The biggest problem, though, might be local softball players. Sackbauer said the recreation district is working with Eagle-Vail to move league games. And Steve Russell, general manager of the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District, which runs programs from Edwards to Gypsum, said he and his board are willing to help however they can.
“Everybody will have to pitch in,” Russell said. “Those big tournaments are really important for the valley’s economy.”
A lot of the site-shuffling is going to involve tight scheduling, along with a decent amount of praying for good weather.
But, since this is a valley that can successfully run anything from three-on-three soccer to the World Alpine Ski Championships, Sackbauer said he believes there’s plenty of expertise available to make more difficult schedules work.
After a tough season, the results will be better for everyone involved, Sackbauer said.
“I think it’s a win-win for the whole valley,” he said.
Soren said he’s looking forward to having the 2015 Shootout on better playing fields. Those fields will be a combination of grass and an artificial surface in the diamond areas of the softball fields to ensure a more consistent playing surface.
“The grass is already uneven in spots. There are a lot of boulders out there,” Soren said. “It’ll be a good thing to have the new fields.”
And, ultimately, more games can be played at Ford Park, no matter the sport.
The prospect of the new fields has Sackbauer excited, too — he’s already seen the popularity of the new restrooms and concession stand.
“The spring of (2015) is going to be very exciting,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.