COEUR d'ALENE - The city of Coeur d'Alene agreed Tuesday to purchase roughly 5 acres of land north of Cherry Hill Park - a site that could play home to an American Legion baseball field by 2013.
Mayor Sandi Bloem split a deadlocked City Council by voting to approve the property acquisition, which passed 4 votes to 3 votes.
The outcome mirrors last month's council vote not to issue a public advisory vote on McEuen Field, and could repeat itself on future issues related directly or indirectly to the downtown park's redevelopment project as each council member has stood firm on his or her stance on the divisive topic.
The purchase of 4.8-acres along 15th Street was tied to the McEuen Field project because it could house a baseball complex for a displaced American Legion diamond, which would be removed from its current spot downtown should Phase 1 of the park project go through as planned.
Whether baseball is played there or not, Bloem said, it shouldn't be viewed as a reason not to buy parkland for $440,000 from the Coeur d'Alene Eagles.
"We have Ramsey park and that's what we do is play ball out there," she said. "And it's still a park. And Canfield park, we play a lot of ball; it's still a park. So there is a lot of different uses for a park. I think there's no doubt this is parkland and if a baseball field goes on it, it's still a park."
The purchase agreement pays $180,000 from the city's rainy day fund as a down payment, then $52,000 a year at 0 percent interest for five years from the parks capital improvement fund. The parks capital improvement fund, which generates revenue from park and dock rental fees, would also be used to pay back the rainy day fund for the deposit over time.
Council members Dan Gookin, Steve Adams and Ron Edinger voted against the purchase.
Edinger, a longtime American Legion Baseball supporter, has opposed the McEuen Field plan since it was presented over a year ago - in part because it calls for the ballfield's removal.
Gookin and Adams won council seats in November after campaigning primarily against the city moving forward with the park plan as presented.
"It's going to be a ballfield," Edinger said. "Equal or better? I don't know."
The city pledged years ago that if it did remove the American Legion field or boat launch from McEuen Field, it would provide a replacement facility of equal or better value.
"I'm concerned about American Legion, I'm concerned about 'equal or better,'" Gookin said. "I want to make sure they're taken care of."
But Doug Eastwood, parks director, said the parcel has been on the city's wish list for nearly 9 years because of its proximity to Cherry Hill park, which has added several amenities over the years. The Eagles weren't willing to sell then, but has been working with the city on a possible deal for several months.
Whether a baseball field goes there is yet to be determined. If one is proposed, its merits would be vetted separately by the city then.
"It's got to be better, how could it not be better," Councilman Woody McEvers said of the possible future site, calling the purchase "a no-brainer"
"I think this is an investment in dirt," he said. "Whether we put a field good enough for legion, look at it ... It's a great piece."
Eastwood said last week that a separate committee is working on the development of the site for hardball. A fundraising goal, sought through private contributions, would be around $2 million, and the target would be to have the site developed by 2013.
"We have to initiate an aggressive fundraiser to get that to happen," he told The Press Tuesday. "If everything fell in place, it could happen that quickly."
The purchased property fronts 15th Street. That road may be scheduled for street improvements as early as 2013. The estimated cost is $128,310 and that cost will be also be paid from the rainy day fund and reimbursed by the parks capital improvement dollars, according to staff reports.
Of that total, around $25,000 accounts for improvements along the property the city purchased Tuesday, Eastwood said.
Council members Deanna Goodlander, Mike Kennedy and McEvers voted in favor of the purchase.
American Legion Baseball President Jamie Duman did not return messages from The Press Tuesday.
City adopts obscene conduct amendment
The Coeur d'Alene City Council agreed Tuesday to close a legal loophole that made it difficult to prosecute those who expose themselves indecently.
The city adopted an amendment to its obscene conduct law that specifically includes indecent exposure for offenders who drop trou to annoy or offend people rather than those who do so with lewd intent. It passed 5 votes to 1 vote. Councilman Dan Gookin opposed the amendment because the city's disturbing the peace ordinance already addresses the issue, he said.