The Dubuque PONY League is considering a nearly 80-acre swath of land on the city’s west end as a possible location for five new baseball diamonds.
The nonprofit oversees competitive baseball leagues for tri-state-area residents ages 4 through 18.
On June 1, Dubuque Zoning Advisory Commission members will consider a request to rezone 77.4 acres from agricultural to commercial recreation. The land stretches north from West 32nd Street near Carter Road toward Northwest Arterial and is not yet owned by the league.
Greg Yoko, a member of the Dubuque PONY League board, said the organization envisions the site as a possible home for baseball diamonds of various sizes, as well as complementary accommodations such as parking, concession stands and restrooms. The project’s estimated cost is $5.5 million to $7 million.
“We have been talking about this for about two years now, and we have reviewed around 16 different properties,” Yoko said. “We have settled now on what we think is the best option.”
He said the league’s efforts to purchase land and construct new diamonds are spurred by the need to provide adequate facilities for baseball. However, he noted, the project also could open the door for competitive softball offered through the Dubuque PONY League.
Yoko said the desire to construct new ballfields is not the by-product of growing demand for youth baseball.
About 600 children are in the PONY League this year. He said that total is consistent with participation levels for Dubuque youth baseball for the past 10-plus years.
Dubuque began its affiliation with Little League International in 2002 and changed its affiliation to PONY Baseball and Softball in 2014. PONY is an acronym for Protect Our Nation’s Youth.
Even with participation flat, Yoko said, it makes financial sense to create new fields because the league spends about $30,000 annually to rent ballfields from the City of Dubuque, Dubuque Community School District, Holy Family Catholic Schools and Derby Grange Golf & Recreation Center for games and practices.
Yoko noted that, despite this annual investment, the league has little ability to impact the facilities it uses.
“Since we don’t own our own fields, we cannot upgrade things like fences, dugouts, bases and lights,” he said.
Yoko said the league’s “goal and need” is to be playing on the new fields by 2018. Even so, he acknowledged the rezoning request is merely the first step in a lengthy process.
“We have to raise a significant amount of funds not only to complete the purchase of the land but also to build the fields,” he said. “We haven’t been able to solidify a lot of commitments on fundraising until we knew for sure where we were looking.”
Yoko said the location off 32nd Street made sense for multiple reasons. He noted that the plot was “large enough but not too large” for the league’s needs.
In addition, Yoko noted that many parents expressed a desire in recent surveys to see a facility on the city’s West End.
While the rezoning request references 77.4 acres, Assistant City Planner Guy Hemenway noted only a portion of this land would be used for the PONY League facilities.
“The ballfields would be confined mostly to the northern part of the property,” he said. “The northern part of it currently is cultivated with row crops or hay, and the south area is pretty much vacant because it is a wooded bluff with rock outcroppings that is kind of steep.”
Hemenway noted the commercial recreation zoning designation being sought covers a wide range of possible uses, including an indoor restaurant, car wash or retail center.
“When a commission takes a look at rezoning, they have to consider all of the potential uses and not just what is specifically outlined in the plans because there is always the possibility the property could change hands,” he said.
Online property records indicate the land is owned by Smokey Mountain Investment Group, LLC., based in Sherrill, Iowa. This registered agent for the property is Thomas J. Gantz, according to the Iowa Secretary of State website. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.