Reported in the Fremont Tribune on April 5, 2012:
Dodge County Supervisors approved a $100,000 Fremont and Dodge County Convention and Visitors Bureau grant for The Legacy Group, a nonprofit organization that wants to buy 64 acres of land for a multi-sports complex.
The grant will pay the group $50,000 a year over the next two years from the 2 percent hotel tax designated for capital projects.
“The initial request is specific to obtaining land, and their intention is to meet the grant with a larger sum of money that would come from private investors and different entities,” said Shannon Mullen, CVB executive director.
The Legacy Group earlier this week unveiled plans to construct a football stadium, practice field, and nine-lane track. The group intends to eventually include additional fields, trails and other uses on the land sandwiched between the U.S. 275 bypass and Old Highway 275 south of Fremont.
Neil Schilke of Fremont, who established the Schilke Novak Kids Sports Trust in December 2009 to help fund youth sports, is buying 18 acres from The Legacy Group on the west end of the tract to build a four-diamond baseball and softball complex. He expects at least some of the diamonds to be playable by next March.
He will lease the four-diamond complex to the Nighthawks baseball league at no cost.
“Their duty will be to maintain it and to run a good youth program, like they have in the past,” Schilke said. “They can use it for the Legion teams, high school softball and baseball with no charge.”
Midland University can play there, too, he said, but payment arrangements will have to be made because the rules of the trust allow facilities and equipment for kids under the age of 18.
There will be a $500,000 endowment to underwrite maintenance costs.
“I’ve always been a strong believer in sports for kids,” Schilke said. “I believe they’re the best possible weapon our society has against obesity, sloth, bad gangs, illegal drugs, excessive drinking, all of that.”
As a youth league baseball coach, Schilke was aware of the shortage of available practice and game fields in Fremont, and the heavy demands on Moller Field, so he set out last May to build two or three baseball and softball diamonds in Fremont.
As Schilke looked for a site, he was called by Bill Ekeler, one of The Legacy Group’s members. Schilke, at the time, knew nothing about the group, but agreed to include his complex as a separate but cooperative project.
He hopes to purchase his 18 acres this week.
“We have total cooperation between the two of us,” Schilke said. “That group has given us all kinds of help. We’re going to make arrangements to share driveways, parking and find efficiencies.”
The complex will include a baseball diamond with a 90-foot base path, and another with a 70-foot base path.
“Both of those will have grass infields, and both will be top quality with top quality lights, the kind of thing where you can play a championship game and things like that,” he said.
“Then I will build a third 60-foot diamond with a skinned infield; softball can’t have a grass infield. That one will also be a top quality diamond,” he said. “The fourth diamond will also be a 60-foot diamond, but that will probably be a little more recreational level.”
Preliminary plans include a playground area, restrooms, a concession stand, seating, and an equipment storage building sturdy enough to be a storm shelter and available as a batting cage during winter months.
Schilke hired Jeff Emanuel, formerly of North Bend and owner of Nemaha Landscape Construction Inc. of Lincoln, to build the baseball complex.
“He’s done a lot of these,” Schilke said. “All the references we’ve had are that there isn’t anyone any better.”
Schilke hopes to have a design and cost estimates in the next two weeks. He estimates construction will cost around $3.5 million, and figures he will have $3.2-$3.3 million available, but is optimistic that he can raise additional money.
The overall cost listed on The Legacy Group’s CVB application was $4.524 million, including purchase of the 64 acres, and Schilke’s estimated construction costs.
“Those four ball fields have a large economic impact potential for our community,” Mullen said, adding the effort dovetails with the CVB’s creation of a sports commission.
The commission currently is working with the city and other entities to assess the community’s sports facilities, and will begin bidding to bring tournaments and events to Fremont by next spring.
“These are the things also that are giving other hotel venues interest in our community and our county,” she said. “We have been contacted by multiple hoteliers regarding potential spots and sights for development.”