BLUE EARTH - After a lengthy, sometimes contentious debate Monday, Blue Earth City Council is no closer to making a decision about whether to swap land at the fairgrounds with the fair board.
At the heart of the matter is the fair board having enough room to accommodate larger events, such as motocross, and the youth baseball group having enough room to add a larger ball diamond at the fairgrounds, where two ball fields exist currently.
Daryl Murray, representing the fair board, said his group still favors making the land swap. The city would gain control of land around the Green Giant statue. The fair board would get land in front of the grandstand at the fairgrounds. He said putting a third baseball field in "would be tight." He said the fair board's consensus is to explore other options for a field.
Brent Legred, representing youth baseball, said the fairgrounds is the perfect place for another diamond, showing on a map how it could be laid out. He said youth baseball is growing. The problem is that as the kids grow, they need larger fields, but Blue Earth doesn't have fields suited for teens.
Legred asked the council for time to see if the youth baseball group can secure some grants to help pay for the fields.
Legred noted that having more fields will help Blue Earth.
"Last year, we had seven tournaments; this year, we'll have nine," he said.
That means teams coming from South Dakota, Iowa and the Twin Cities, bringing in 600 to 1,000 people. That means money spent in the stores, restaurants and motels in town.
"Does everything have to be in Blue Earth?" asked Councilman Russ Erichsrud, noting there are ball fields in Winnebago.
"It makes things a whole lot easier," Legred replied.
Having three fields in one location makes more sense than making parents pack up their kids and gear and drive them to another field across Blue Earth or in another town, he said.
"Do you think the businesses of Blue Earth want these people to go to Winnebago?" John Lindsey, of the youth baseball group, challenged Erichsrud, reminding him he serves on the Blue Earth council.
Erichsrud replied that he is thinking of working cooperatively with the other communities, especially since all the children come together under the same school banner, and the cities even buy equipment and use it jointly to save money.
In a previous council meeting, Murray had talked about the fair board needing to move the grandstand to open up land in front of it to host different events. All of Legred's plans showed the grandstand moved back, with 160 feet between it and the ball fields.
"It's a dream we would like to do," Murray said. "To say we're going to move the grandstand, that's putting words in my mouth."
Murray said even if the grandstand is moved, the permanent backstop fence Legred showed in his plans would not give the fair board the room it needs.
"To do a motocross event, we'll have to set the track up around the backstop," said fair board member Sara Gack.
Councilman Rick Scholtes said if the youth baseball group is expected to show how its plans will work, the fair board should be required to explain its plans.
Scholtes also expressed concern about the city giving up control of the land.
"Why would we give up a piece of land [and then] go buy other land to put ball fields?" he asked.
"If moving the grandstand is not the purpose, what do we need that extra room for?" Legred asked Murray and Gack.
"First we have to do Point A - do we get the land or not?" Gack answered.
"We've had a good relationship with the fair board. If everybody declares war on everybody, nobody wins," said Mayor Rob Hammond.
He appointed a committee of council members John Gartzke, John Huisman and Erichsrud to sit down with City Engineer Wes Brown to discuss the boundaries of the land being discussed in the swap. The motion was tabled until Dec. 3.
In other business:
o City Attorney David Frundt announced the city now owns the Avalon Building on Main Street.
o The council approved the feasibility report and set a hearing for the Highway 169 construction project for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 26 at the Public Safety Center.
o The council discussed setting the 2013 local property tax levy hike at 3 percent. A meeting for the public to ask questions is set for 6 p.m. Dec. 6.