Update: The City of New Bern decided to record the video of the community input meeting that was held on August 14, 2023. The video link can be found here.
The future of baseball at Kafer Park depends on community input, but it appears at least three members of the New Bern Board of Aldermen don’t find it necessary to hold a public meeting for the historic park that’s almost 100 years old. Although it’s expected they’ll have a quorum, the BOA decided to hold a “town hall” at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, August 14 at the Jasper G. Hayes Omega Center located at 800 Cedar St. in the Five Points community. The city said it won’t be recorded. The BOA was advised by the city attorney to “avoid discussing city business.” This means the public is welcome to express their feelings, but the mayor and aldermen won’t respond to questions since they didn’t call for a “public meeting.”
What’s happened so far:
News of another baseball league coming to Kafer Park broke during the New Bern Board of Aldermen meeting on July 25. City Manager Foster Hughes told the board he had been communicating with Alec Allred of the Old North State League for several months and they are interested in bringing a team to New Bern.
Allred founded the league with his father Reggie in 2018. He pitched their ideas in a presentation saying, “We want to bring baseball back to some of these forgotten baseball communities and New Bern is one of those places.”
New Bern has a wooden bat baseball league, the East Carolina Amateur Baseball League. They play at Kafer Park three times a week. Players fund operations, allowing for the community to enjoy a baseball game at no cost.
New Bern Now researched admission fees for ONSL’s teams and found on average, costs were between $8 – $10 per person/per game.
Allred said they would renovate the ballpark by expanding the dugouts, fixing the playing surface, putting in bullpens and building the grandstand among other things, including building a beer patio. Estimated costs are between $250,000-$350,000. Allred said, “We’re proposing that we will do the investment off the front on our part and in exchange will be given a 10-year lease at a dollar a year.”
Allred mentioned Craven Stadium located in Ramseur, N.C., saying his father built the park in 2014. New Bern Now discovered the league doesn’t have a team at Craven Stadium. They said goodbye to the Deep River Muddogs in February 2022 leaving Allred’s hometown without an ONSL team.
What will happen to the current baseball league that calls Kafer Park home?
Allred said he is committed to working with the East Carolina Amateur Baseball League but did not say how since he had not read their contract.
Information from public records show he has corresponded with the city manager since December 2022. NBN spoke with members of the ECABL and they were not aware of the proposal until it showed up on the agenda that was made public the Friday prior to the meeting on July 21. The first time Allred and members of the ECABL met was the day of the BOA meeting.
The ECABL has played at historic Kafer Park since 2019. The league was founded in 2016 and played three seasons at Creekside Park prior to relocating to Kafer Park. The league has 10 teams. The 35+ division plays on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the 18+ division plays three games on Sundays.
According to the ECABL leadership, they’ve invested a lot of time and money refurbishing amenities at Kafer Park that was built in 1928. They constructed the batting cages and a shelter and contributed half of the cost to create the grass infield. They also pay the city $5,500 for the use of the field and lights from March to November.
Public records revealed the city manager reviewed and recommended edits to Allred’s slideshow prior to it being presented to the BOA. NBN compared the proposal with the ECABL contract and there appears to be a significant contrast between what they were allowed to do and what ONSL may possibly be permitted to do despite their investment in Kafer Park since 2019. ECABL’s players live in New Bern and surrounding communities.
-“League shall take such action as deemed necessary to comply with all Federal, State and City laws and regulations pertaining to the use of park. Alcohol and drugs are prohibited on City Park property.”
-Public Park: Kafer Park is a public park and may be used by the general public and reserved by other entities for use when not in conflict with the League schedule. Under no circumstances shall the facility be sub-leased at any time.”
-Signage: All Signs promoting any type of business, sponsor, or activity shall be approved in advance by the Director of Parks and Recreation. A sign placement fee in the amount of 10% of sign sponsor rate (whether cash or in-kind) will be charged per season.
Alderman Bob Brinson asked if there was a concern about parking. Allred responded people would park on the street. He also said they would, “work with other local businesses in the nearby area and actually give them a revenue stream by renting out their lots on game days and giving them some money.”
Alderman Barbara Best asked if there were still problems with balls going into the streets and cemetery. Hughes responded that if there’s a pop fly that hits a car, the league is responsible for covering the damage.
NBN has watched numerous games and it’s normal to see balls landing in the streets. That’s why most people park between George and Guion Streets and avoid parking on George Street between Cedar and Queen Streets and behind the backstop on Cedar Street.
Best suggested they consider building the stadium at Martin Marietta Park since it has a larger area and would accommodate more people.
Mayor Jeffrey Odham said, “Just to be clear, they’re not going to build a stadium, they’re talking about adding some seats.”
When Alderman Bobby Aster asked if there would be a required public hearing, Hughes confirmed it wasn’t required.
Best reiterated, “I think our citizens need to have a voice in this.”
Brinson responded, “I think rather than having something as formal as a public hearing, perhaps a town hall in the Omega Center for the Dryborough residents might be a better option to get public input than having a public hearing.”
Alderman Hazel Royal stated, “We should have citizen’s input in whatever form that we can get it in. Whether it’s through a public hearing or whether it’s just a town hall.”
Aster asked if they could do a survey on social media and Royal shook her saying, “That doesn’t work” and Best said, “We know how that goes.”
Odham concluded by saying, “In the spirit of the presentation it is do we have an interest in moving forward with this discussion or do we not and it sounded like to me that everybody is in favor of moving forward with the discussion. We’re not making any decisions tonight. We just want to tell them, yes, we support the idea and the concept and yes, we want to move forward to the next step whatever that may be. Is that a fair assessment board?”
Royal said, “It’s a fair assessment with citizen input.”
During the August 8 meeting of the BOA, the city manager announced the community meeting will be held on August 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Omega Center, located at 800 Cedar St. Since four board members plan on attending, they would have a quorum. Odham asked Davis if there was a need to advertise it as a public meeting and the city attorney said, “I would just avoid discussing city business.” The public information officer told New Bern Now they would not be video recording the meeting.
According to the Old North State League website, ONSL is owned and operated by The Players League. Alec Alread is the CEO so it’s unclear why this wasn’t mentioned.
New Bern Now asked the Board of Aldermen, City Manager and Alec Allred for comment.
Alderman Best responded via email saying, “I was not involved in any prior meetings, or by phone, email, or engaged in conversation on the contract of this League other than the discussion at the July 25th BOA meeting, nor was I aware that this meeting to be held at the Omega Center will not be recorded for the public.”
See the full presentation and discussion here:
Wendy Card, co-editor. Send an email with questions or comments.