Skousen: We chose best option for park - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Skousen: We chose best option for park

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Posted: Saturday, February 16, 2008 3:35 pm | Updated: 8:56 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

For a long time Gilbert has had and continues to have a great need for parks and recreation facilities. We are an active, fast-growing community, and our fields are increasingly reserved by youth and adult leagues. We also have a limited amount of financial resources to build and maintain recreation facilities.

To address this issue we decided to look at establishing partnerships with private organizations to maintain and operate facilities, as have many other municipalities. Private organizations can often operate facilities more efficiently and this cost savings can be shared with the town to generate additional revenue.

A good example of this type of partnership is Big League Dreams at Elliot District Park, a project that is suddenly receiving a lot of media attention. As the project generates discussion around the community, I think it is helpful to recap the process used to select Big League Dreams as the operator of this park. In so doing, we can dispel rumors and speculation and replace them with concrete facts.

In October 2004, Gilbert invited companies to submit proposals to build a privately operated sports complex at Elliot District Park. The request, referred to as a Request for Proposals (RFP), stated that Gilbert was interested in partnering with a company to operate a sports facility. Three groups responded to the RFP: Big League Dreams, Sports Complex Design & Management Group, and Concord Eastridge.

One group had experience working with youth athletic leagues but no experience in operating or maintaining a public/private facility of this nature. This group proposed a sporting complex predominantly used by a local youth soccer club, along with a retail component. While interesting, none of the three principals had any experience whatsoever developing and operating a sports complex.

The second group proposed a BMX and extreme sports facility, with room for an athletic training complex and softball/baseball fields. The proposal also would have allocated space to the Special Olympics, as well as other community groups. While the group had some experience managing park facilities and organizing youth sports leagues, they had never been involved in a project of this type or magnitude.

Although each of the three proposals had worthwhile elements, after interviews with a committee made up of town residents, staff and council, it was determined that Big League Dreams was the most qualified and experienced operator to respond to the RFP. Their years of experience operating and maintaining the very type of facility Gilbert wanted made them a known quantity for evaluation. With similar parks in California, Texas and Nevada, Big League Dreams has a track record of successfully operating youth and adult leagues and tournaments. They have been successfully partnering with municipalities since 1997 when they opened their first park in Cathedral City, Calif. Simply put, Big League Dreams are the experts at providing this unique service, from aiding in the design to running leagues and tournaments. They have long-standing relationships with a number of cities and are recognized as operating some of the best softball and baseball facilities in our country.

Anyone who has the chance to play on the fields or watch from the stands will recognize we have built a truly one-of-a-kind facility. The goal from the beginning of this process was to provide a top-notch athletic facility that would draw people from all over the region, and we have accomplished that.

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