MERIDEN — City officials are hopeful a plan being considered to relocate the soccer fields across from MidState Medical Center will benefit the youth clubs that use the fields.
If the fields off Lewis Avenue were relocated to another site, it’s likely the brand new fields would be an upgrade from the current ones, said Parks and Recreation Director Chris Bourdon. The fields are used by youth teams in the Meriden Soccer Club – with 500 to 600 youths ages 4 to 19 – and Academica Futebol Club, another youth soccer organization.
“It’s not going to be easy for them to uproot and go somewhere else, so the tradeoff is you’re going to get a first-class facility that wasn't possible at MidState,” Bourdon said.
MidState has had discussions with the city about relocating the fields to make way for a new medical facility. The city is in the process of hiring an engineering firm, which MidState will pay to study the feasibility of relocating the fields to one of three possible sites.
Bourdon said the city and Meriden Soccer Club have “poured a lot of time and resources into bringing the MidState fields into what they are,” including money spent on a new irrigation system and landscaping. But relocating, he said, would potentially mean brand new fields and facilities. Bourdon said the building that houses the concession stand, bathrooms, and storage space at the Lewis Avenue fields was converted from a dog kennel previously used by State Police.
“At the end of the day, the main building there was a former dog kennel, which is serviceable now, but you’re looking at the chance to get a brand new building that's built to your wishes. You’re going to get much-improved amenities,” Bourdon said.
Representatives from the youth soccer clubs couldn’t be reached for comment this week. Bourdon said while he doesn’t want to speak for the youth clubs, “I think they feel the same way” about relocation.
“In the end, it’ll make both MidState and the soccer club happy and what's better than that — a deal where everyone comes out better,” he said.
Two of the sites under consideration — 525 Kensington Ave. and 42 Profile St. — are privately owned vacant properties located about a mile from the Lewis Avenue site near the Westfield Mall. The 30-acre Kensington Avenue site is owned by the Westfield Mall and has an assessed value of just over $1 million, according to land records. The Profile Street property is directly adjacent to Target and is owned by Whalley Avenue LLC. That site includes about 4.8 acres and is assessed at just under $100,000, according to city land records.
Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski, who has been in talks with MidState, said it hasn’t yet been determined whether the city or MidState would pay to purchase a property for relocation and build brand new fields. The feasibility study sought by the two parties will help address how much the project will cost, she said.
City-owned Washington Park is also being considered, though Bourdon said there are several issues with moving the soccer clubs there, including conflicts with the Meriden Raiders youth football organization, which uses the entire park for practices in the late summer.
“I don't think the two of them could co-exist there just because there won't be enough space,” Bourdon said. He also noted the location of the Lewis Avenue fields is advantageous because of their proximity to Interstate 691, which makes them easy to access for teams coming in from other towns. While the other proposed sites are also close to the highway, Washington Park isn’t.
Burdelski said the feasibility study is expected to take about six to nine months, after which the firm will develop cost estimates and a site plan and present its findings to the City Council.
When MidState first approached the city about relocating the fields, Bourdon said one of city officials’ biggest concerns was preserving space for the youth soccer teams.
“My concern at the beginning was the soccer fields. I didn't want them to lose anything,” said City Councilor Cathy Battista, who chairs the council’s Parks and Recreation Committee. “… If it goes the way I hope it goes, they will be taken care of and won't lose anything.”
The city plans to "seek participation by at least one representative from the Meriden Soccer Club in the review of conceptual designs and final design plans to help ensure that the designs meet the needs of the local and regional soccer clubs,” Hartford HealthCare Vice President Tom Vaccarelli wrote in a letter to Burdelski.
The field site is technically owned by MidState, but the city has a 99-year lease for the property, which Burdelski said is “effective ownership.”
The city required the old Veterans Memorial Medical Center to construct the fields as part of the approval for the new hospital back in the 1990s because construction of the hospital led to the city losing two baseball fields and one soccer field, according to Record-Journal archives. VMMC promised to replace the athletic fields in an 18-point agreement that Mayor Joseph J. Marinan Jr. and the VMMC officials negotiated in 1995 to win council approval to build a new hospital.
When the hospital dragged its feet with building the fields, Michael Rohde, the council's then-majority leader, proposed the city withhold the certificate of occupancy for the new hospital.
City officials debated at the time whether two soccer fields or one soccer field and a baseball diamond should be built on the site, called Benjamin DeZinno Park.
Then-Planning Commission Chairman Roger DeZinno, son of Benjamin DeZinno, wanted a baseball field built at the park named after his father because his father, a former state representative, was a baseball enthusiast.
"I think my father would rather see a baseball field associated with his name," Roger DeZinno said.
Marinan said at the time it wasn’t the Planning Commission's place to decide what kinds of athletic fields MidState must build. Marinan supported building two soccer fields and disagreed with DeZinno over which sport had a greater need.
Today, Bourdon said the demand for soccer fields has grown in the city over the years as youth soccer has grown from a sport played between local teams one season a year to a sport played three seasons a year between travel teams from all over the area.