The Alexandria City Council moved decisively yesterday to bring a Class A minor league baseball team to the city by appropriating almost $120,000 for field, parking and street improvements at the Cora Kelly Elementary School where the team plans to begin playing this spring.
The team would be an expansion franchise from the Carolina League, which now has five Class A teams in Virginia and North Carolina. The first game is scheduled to be played in Alexandria on April 18.
The Council yesterday also voted to prohibit the sale of beer and other alcoholic beverages at the games and approved a long and detailed lease obligating the baseball club to pay $7,600 rent each season for use of the Cora Kelly school facilities. The team is also required to purchase liability insurance of at least $1 million. In addition, several council members indicated yesterday they may impose an amusement tax on the game tickets.
The lease must now be approved by the Alexandria Baseball Club, Inc., a group formed to bring professional baseball to Alexandria. Roy Zimmerman, an attorney and member of the club's board of directors who worked on the lease with the city, said after the council vote that despite some problems "it's a lease we can live with."
Zimmerman said "Right now I thing it looks pretty good for baseball, the next big thing to do is to pick a name for the club," said Zimmerman.
If the team approves the lease with the city, the use of the Cora Kelly school facilities still remains in doubt. The school, closed for almost two years because of recurrent flooding, is owned by the school board, and its approval is necessary before anyone else can use its facilities. The board postponed action on proposed lease between itself and the city last week and is not scheduled to take up the matter until Tuesday night.
The Alexandria city attorney, however, has ruled that the School Board does not own the playing field adjacent to the school, and several council school board approval. In that case, the players members have indicated they would support use of would not be able to use the showers that would that field by the Class A team with or without be installed and other facilities in the school building.
"I do not think that would be the normal spirit under which the City Council would act," School Board Chairman Carlyle C. Ring said last week. The baseball issue, which has all but dominated the attention of the City Council and its staff during the past six weeks, has caused friction between the School Board and the City Council, with appoints School Board members.
The majority of School Board members indicated earlier this month in interviews that they were opposed to leasing the Cora Kelly facility, even though the lease between the city and School Board guarantees that the entire use of the school will be returned to the board on 90-day School Board notice to the city.
The proposal to bring a Class A baseball team to Alexandria, which was enthusiastically proposed by Mayor Frank E. Mann, has also stirred resentment in the Lynhaven community where Cora Kelly is located. Residents of the mostly black, low-income area have complained that the team will bring increased crime, traffic, and garbage problems to the area. Others have complained about using public money to help finance a private venture.
Supporters of the team argue that the team will bring about $250,000 to the city and local businesses from taxes and visiting team expenses. Supporters also claim that such a team would give national publicity to Alexandria because of media coverage and would help the Lynhaven area by giving the community "an increased neighborhood vitality and combat juvenile delinquency and crime."
At yesterday morning's public hearing, the City Council reduced the appropriation for field and other improvements in the Cora Kelly area by voting not to pave the parking areas with asphalt but to use only a temporary porous dirt and bluestone material. Paving would have cost $120,000, while the temporary covering will cost the city about $40,000.
But the council asked City Manager Douglas Harman to negotiate with the club owners a cost-sharing agreement to provide about $30,000 for light improvements at the field.
The contract between the club and city approved by the council yesterday specifies that additional seating to the 1,000 seats to be provided by the city will be paid for by the team. Field fencing improvement, scoreboard, the flag pole and other amenities will also be paid for by the team but would become the property of the School Board should the team move elsewhere.
Only Vice Mayor Nora O. Lamborne and council member Beverly Beidler, who had earlier indicated she would favor the baseball proposal, voted against the lease yesterday.