When Bridgeport city leaders put their heads together a few years ago to solve the chronic shortage of baseball fields, they came up with a win-win.
Build a few typical ballfields, and you might solve your leagues' scheduling problems — but build a state-of-the-art complex, and you've got yourself a destination that will draw people in from all around.
Now in its second year, the Bridgeport Recreation Complex is doing just that.
The new recreation complex has two large ballfields with fences at 375 feet at center field and two youth ballfields with fences at 225 feet. The fields are laid out for flexibility, with two having infield grass, and two skinned; in addition, one large ballfield has baselines at 90 feet, and the youth fields have baselines at 60 and 65 feet, while the other large ballfield can be played with a range of baselines.
The ballfields are arranged around a central building with restrooms, concessions and a second-floor press box that overlooks one of the fields in each direction. Each field has large brick dugouts with storage space, and bleacher seating is covered.
Beyond the thoughtful layout is state-of-the-art technology — for example, the lighting.
"Bridgeport Little League, the Patriot league, Babe Ruth League — we assign all the coaches user IDs and passwords and they call the 800 number for Musco (Sports Lighting) out in the Midwest and say, ‘I need the lights turned on at Field 2 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.,'" Burton explained. "It's all computerized. And then we bill the leagues for the light usage."
An intercom system connects the dugouts with the press box and scoreboard operator, Burton said, and irrigation keeps the grass green.
The complex has resolved the lack of ballfields for local leagues, logging more than 300 games and 600 practices in its first year. But the other "win" for Bridgeport is the tourism the complex supports.
"Last weekend we had 37 teams here playing baseball in a tournament, ages 10 to 16. Twenty-five of the teams were from out of the area — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington D.C.," said Bridgeport Mayor Jim Christie, who shepherded the idea for the complex from the beginning. "They stayed in our hotels Friday night and Saturday night. Just figuring $100, conservatively, for a family for breakfast, lunch and dinner, $125,000 was spent on hotels and eating. If I do that 10 times a year, I've got $1.5 million that came to our city that never would have come into the city."
How was it all paid for?
About $6 million of the nearly $8 million cost of the complex came out of one-time business and occupation tax revenue from the large amount of construction that has taken place around Bridgeport in recent years, Christie said. That includes the new United Hospital Center as well as development at the upscale Charles Pointe community and the White Oaks business park.
Another $2.1 million came from a 10-year bond the city issued three years ago that Christie expects will be paid off this summer.
With lighting soon to be installed at a multi-purpose field that's underdeveloped, Christie said, the complex will be able to schedule tournaments for soccer as well as for baseball.
"Our goal is 10 to 20 tournaments a year," he said.
"So we've met the need for additional fields," he said with satisfaction. "And we've met the goal of becoming a destination. We've spent money that will create revenue for the future."