It's back to the drawing board for what's to be done about Ray Winder Field, the defunct minor league baseball park in War Memorial Park.
Two weeks ago, a city advisory committee heard responses to a formal Request For Proposal process for the 3+ acres that is city property. The state owns part of the facility. The city found a youth baseball program had not met minimum qualifications. It chose a UAMS proposal to buy the land for about $1.1 million over the Little Rozk Zoo's proposal to take the land, for free, to use for expansion.
You perhaps read in the morning paper today that questions had been raised by City Director Brad Cazort, a zoo supporter, about UAMS' winning proposal because the Med center mentioned the amount of its bid during the initial presentation to the committee, but before the formal bid had been opened. The mention of price at that point was specifically prohibited in the RFP. The rule was kind of silly in application in this case because UAMS had won UA Board of Trustees approval for the bid in a public meeting in advance of the final selection process. It was no secret. Still, a rule is a rule.
Not to worry, if you opposed the UAMS bid. Sources tell me that City Attorney Tom Carpenter is expected to issue an opinion this afternoon that ALL three bids should be disqualified. The RFP process will conclude with NO winner.
The baseball bid remains insufficient for failing to meet the committee's criteria. UAMS must be disqualified for mentioning its purchase price. The Zoo's bid must be disqualified because it too mentioned money, in an estimated value of $10 million for the expected expansion project.
So, it's back to square one. All of the proposals may be considered anew by the City Board. But there will be first a broader Board discussion that should have been held to begin with, including city policy on sale of park land. There's immense unhappiness on the Board about how this specific process played out as well. There's unhappiness that this process was done at all, in fact.
Another wrinkle screwed up UAMS' bid, though I don't know if it will be mentioned in Carpenter's opinion: Mayor Mark Stodola reportedly gave former Mayor Jim Dailey, a member of the advisory committee, the word in advance of the committee's review that he'd worked out a deal with UAMS to keep the ballfield in use as a ballfield until UAMS was ready to build on the property. In the interim, UAMS planned a parking lot after razing the old grandstand. This kind of side dealing is a no-no. I was curious when UAMS, out of the blue, mentioned keeping the ballfield in play. Now I see.
Can City Hall ever do anything right? Can they ever run a clean process that doesn't look, for all the world, like a pre-arranged deal for the usual favorite sons?
UPDATE: Rex Nelson, one of the leaders of the youth baseball proposal, adds a comment on the side deal UAMS reportedly heard from the mayor.
REX NELSON WRITES:
I just read your blog posting. I want to clarify something regarding the position of the Ray Winder Foundation as it relates to Ray Winder Field:
When UAMS officials called me, I told them that we would be willing to discuss an arrangement with them IF they bought the land following a decision by the city Board of Directors. At no time did I say or hint that the Ray Winder Foundation would back off its proposal.
We made a presentation to the so-called review committee and continue to hope the city Board of Directors will preserve Ray Winder as a baseball facility. We would prefer for it to be a city-operated ballpark but could use the foundation to operate Ray Winder (with the city retaining ownership) if the board felt it was unable to do so.
I am strongly opposed to selling city parkland to an outside entity.
I told UAMS if it got the land and had no use for it for a number of years, we would be willing to discuss operating it as a baseball facility. Our only motivation is to help Little Rock youth who have a shortage of facilities.
I have told people associated with the zoo the same thing. If they get the land and can't do anything with it for a number of years, we will sit down and discuss operating it in the interim as a baseball facility.