New London strikes out with Mitchell College ballfield
New London — Mitchell College has ended negotiations with the city for a lease at the city-owned Toby May Park, where it had pitched the idea of a $500,000 collegiate softball field.
City officials are disappointed and at a loss to explain the abrupt halt to talks.
Mitchell College interim Co-President Mary-Jane McLaughlin did not provide details of the stalled negotiations, which were conducted by attorneys representing the college and city.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement with the city regarding the use of Toby May Field,” McLaughlin said in an email on Tuesday. “I’ve let Mayor (Michael) Passero know that the college would welcome any other opportunities to partner in the future.”
Passero would not speculate on the reasons lease negotiations broke down.
“I supported the deal from the beginning. It was a great opportunity,” he said. “They were improving the field on their dime. I was really excited about the partnership and the opportunity for our children and disappointed it could not be worked out at the eleventh hour.”
Passero said he would continue to be open to partnerships with the college “for the benefit of the city and the college.”
The college had proposed building a softball field to National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III standards on land adjacent to its own property. The field would encompass one of the two softball fields that exist at Toby May and are regularly used by the New London Little League.
Mitchell would have had priority use of the field and, according to a draft memorandum of agreement, would have allowed the New London Little League use of the field for practices and games at times that did not conflict with the college’s schedule. The New London High School softball team also would have had occasional use of the field.
Mitchell, in lieu of annual payments, had agreed to handle year-round maintenance of the field, estimated to cost $25,000. The college, which is tax-exempt, has an unrelated agreement in place with the city to make annual payments in lieu of taxes. The college paid $31,000 this year and is due to contribute $32,000 next year.
Mitchell officials had said they had considered constructing the softball field on their own property but opted instead for a partnership to help improve a “community asset.” It is unclear whether Mitchell still intends to build a softball field.
McLaughlin said Tuesday the college will “continue to develop plans to renovate the fields at the college in support of our athletic teams.”
New London Little League President Vaughn Dowsett said he thought the field improvements and lease was a "win-win situation.”
“A win for the city because they would not have to maintain the field. I have no idea why (Mitchell) backed out,” Dowsett said.
City Recreation Director Tommie Major supported the idea. He said there were naysayers criticizing the draft agreement and some questions regarding the lease but the Park and Recreation Commission ultimately endorsed the memorandum of agreement. The commission voted at a special meeting on July 22.
The next step would have been a public hearing before the City Council that was scheduled for Monday. That meeting was canceled.
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