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Will families have to pay to see kids play ball at the Margate Sports Complex? by: MargateNews.n

It all depends on who gets the bid to redevelop the Plex. Presently, only one company has responded to a bid request (RFP) - Big League Dreams, a company known for chargingadmission to youth league games.

“Whoever gets the bid - if we do it - will work with the little league teams as to whether they pay or don’t pay,” Vice Mayor, Le Peerman said at a July city meeting.

Publisher's Note: This article is a continuation of Big League Dreams Sole Bidder on Margate Sports Complex Build Out

A Request for Proposal (RFP) that never went before the City Commissioners prior to publishing has caused some conflict on the Margate dais. City Attorney, Eugene Steinfeld, told commissioners they couldn’t talk about the RFP in public because a Broward County ordinance prohibits talking about its contents during the bidding process. On the other hand, City Commissioner, Tommy Ruzzano, wanted to know why commissioners weren’t afforded input on the contents of the RFP before it went out to bid, as indicated by the City’spurchasing ordinance (Section 2-25).

The main sticking point for Ruzzano: nothing in the RFP guarantees that families don’t have to pay to see their kids play baseball. “That’s all they want to know,” Ruzzano told fellow commissioners. “Can someone tell them that?”

After listening to Steinfeld and commissioners consider the fate of residents and their families as it pertained to Margate Sports Complex fields where local children play baseball, Margate Mayor, Frank Talerico, said residents could speak on the matter, but that commissioners wouldn’t have answers for them. “You can say all you want, but it’s not going to help them, Talerico told Ruzzano, adding that he didn’t want any trouble with the Inspector General’s Office, “ because they don’t play games. They’re very serious about it,” he said. Notwithstanding, nothing in the Broward ethics ordinance prohibits commissioners from discussing an RFP in the Sunshine. Only in that City Commissioners don’t interfere with, or play a role in, the selection of procurement committees.

Matt Knemeyer, President of the Margate Youth Baseball League, expressed his disappointment with commissioners.

“We do not participate with little league. That’s how out of touch you are. We participate in Pony, which is completely different from little league,” he said.

Knemeyer spoke to youth baseball in the City as more than just a sport, but a means to get kids into high schooland to create better citizens. He said Sports Complex fields are the only decent ones in the City and told commissioners if they were going to make families pay, “then maybe it’s about time that Margate stops paying people that don’t understand what’s going on in their own City,” he said.

Margate resident and Charter Review Committee member, Phil Hylander, handed commissioners a packet that showed games played by the city’s youth league on sports complex fields. Hylander said it’s impractical to think that between the more than 3,000 yearly games and practices played by Margate youth on the fields, and the almost 4,500 yearly games proposed in the Big League Dreams (BLD) pro forma - that the company could make money at the Plex.

“It’s more information for you to consider when you look at the proposals,” he said.

Coach for the league, Louis Gara, whose kids have played for the league since his family moved to Margate 12 years ago, said the league is fantastic and he wouldn’t want his kids to play anywhere else.

“I am scared however that when you start involving big money against our little guys that big money will win. I’m hoping when it comes time to vote you look out for our youth,” he said.

Ruzzano said he remembered Gara coaching his son and that he thinks everybody wants the same thing - what’s best for the kids and to get the fields fixed.

“It’s [the cost] is minimal to what they [BLD] wants out there. We can probably get our $450,000 [BLD licensing fee] back, renovate all our fields…we don’t have to spend four and half million dollars,” he said.

As a means of offsetting a $500,000 shortfall the city said it recently incurred by not raising the fire fee, Chamber of Commerce Ambassador, Anthony Caggiano, suggested getting the $450,000 back. Though it would seem to help balance the books, Peerman said if the money did come back to the City it would go back into the city’s Recreational Trust which is fueled by cell tower revenues, not the General Fund.

After one of the leagues 13-year-old players wanted to know where he and others would play if they lost their fields, Peerman assured him that no one has said the league was going to lose its fields.

“No one has said you are going to lose your fields. If people are telling you that, I’m sorry, but no one has said anything about the youth league losing their fields. It’s not what we’re doing. We’re trying to make the fields better for the leagues, but no one has said anything about losing the fields,” she said against the will of Steinfeld who suggested commissioners stop talking about the issue.

Ruzzano said if all the city wants is to make the fields better, then why are commissioners considering spending $4.5 million when it can all be done with $450,000 if the City could get the licensing fee returned. Peerman dismissed the comment.

“Tommy, I’m not doing this with you, we’re doing it with them,” she said.

Crediting Margate baseball with keeping her kids off the streets, Elrina Parkover said her boys are doing well in school thanks to the Margate baseball program. Another parent, Andrea Lindenbaum, said her family was drawn to the program because it is family oriented, children oriented and “everyone interacts with each other,” she said.

Playing adult softball for 18 years, youth baseball board member, Bill Sweeney, said BLD replica fields wouldn't attract him or his softball team. He asked commissioners to think about the bigger picture and not just the youth. “It’s not just a business plan, it’s something that will change the entire fields,” he said.

Margate resident, Mario Imperatore, said he didn’t think the City was dealing with the Big League Dreams concept in a transparent way. He disagreed with Steinfeld that commissioners should be silent over the matter, because the more public discussion; the better idea potential bidders will have on whether they want to bid on the project. “It would be helpful to all the bidders and not prejudice any of them,” he said.

Imperatore said the likelihood was good that a BLD would fail, because it can’t be two things at once. It can’t offer free play and generate money for BLD all at the same time. He told commissioners if they bring BLD into the city, they could jeopardize their chance of getting re-elected.

“None of you campaigned on this [last year]. You’re ashamed of it, your hiding it,” he said.

Talerico, who coached his three boys through Cory League for 20 years, said the City has no intention of hurting the kids. He said the City is seeing what’s out there and exploring all options.

“Nobody’s intent here is to say ‘let’s see what we can do to screw the league up.’ Our intent is to do what’s best for the league, best for the City and what’s best for everyone - and we’ll try to do our best. You have to trust our judgment. Give us a chance, we’re not going to let you down,” he said. "These kids are a priority for us and anyone who thinks differently is mistaken."

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