Agreement with city gives preferential treatment to the leagues, for now

by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - For years, Southside Soccer Club and Tigard Little League have received priority on the use of Cook Park fields due to an agreement with the city.It’s bottom of the ninth for Kim Kelleher.

Kelleher, the president of Tigard Little League, the area’s youth baseball and softball organization, has been talking with Tigard city officials for months about the future of a field improvement agreement that has helped her organization since the 1990s.

For 15 years, Tigard Little League and Southside Soccer Club in Tigard have had an agreement with the city giving them priority on the use of Cook Park fields, because the clubs helped purchase land where the fields were built.

For the better part of two decades, the clubs have made payments on the land — about $30,000 a year — in exchange for first-dibs on scheduling the fields. The clubs also pay no additional fees for use of the facilities.

But that could all change in October, when the clubs’ final payments are due to the city. The groups have been grappling with what to do next, which could include pressing the city to continue the agreement or forcing the groups to pay for the field use like any other group.

The city and the two clubs joined forces in 1998 to purchase the property that eventually became Cook Park’s softball fields and soccer fields.

The city didn’t have the money to purchase the land on its own, and wanted to partner with the then-forming Atfalati Recreation District to help pay for it.

The hope was to form a recreation district for Tigard, similar to Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District in Beaverton. Southside and Tigard Little League were the first two clubs to join with the district, but it was disbanded after voters failed to approve a bond measure that would have funded it.

Southside and Tigard Little League agreed to continue the partnership and make payments to the city for the property and additional renovations to the site.

But times have changed since 1998, said Brian Rager, the city’s assistant public works director. Today there are many more users who want access to the fields, and the groups’ contract is out of date, Rager said.

“This agreement is coming to an end, and we need a new agreement,” he said. “There are some provisions that are no longer being followed, others that no longer make sense, and the clubs will have no obligation to pay the city one dime more after October.”

Normally, groups wanting to use the fields at Cook Park pay a $10 hourly fee, but Southside Soccer President Yvonne Sera said spending that kind of money might not be possible.

“I’m a little scared of paying $10 an hour,” Sera said. “I don’t see it as a feasible fee for us.”

If the groups do come to a new agreement, Rager said he’d like to simplify things from the document the groups signed in the 1990s.

“Let’s keep it simple,” he said. “Let’s keep it fair.”

City councilors have said because of the groups’ history with those fields and the work done to improve them, Southside and Tigard Little League should continue to receive preferential treatment for scheduling, but the city has yet to come to an agreement with how much the clubs should pay, if anything, for use of the fields.

“The fact that they get a priority in scheduling, that’s worth something,” said City Councilor Gretchen Buehner. “I don’t think they should get a discount, because they are already getting the priority of the schedule.”

Kelleher disagreed. “The question has come up whether we are different than other groups who want to use the fields,” she said. “Well, yeah, we are different. Given what’s happened, it’s not reasonable to say that we’re like everybody else.” 

Kelleher sees the clubs and the city as co-owners of the field.

“We helped buy it,” she said. “No, we’re not on the deed, but the city wouldn’t have been able to buy it without us.”

Sera and Kelleher said that if fees are enforced on the clubs, they’d like to see the agreement continue on, with the clubs continuing to make the $30,000 payments to the city.

“(That combined $30,000) is what we’ve both budgeted for. If the city increases fees past what we can afford, we’ll have to charge our families more than what we have in the past,” Sera said.

The other option, Sera said, would be to find other fields to play on.

“We feel at home at Cook Park,” Sera said. “We have invested so much time and energy there. To walk away from that would be painful, we have had such a good relationship for so long.”

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