City, Friends group disagree on why Riverside Stadium agreement ended

Brian Cuaron

Oct. 25, 2011 at 5:25 a.m.
Updated Oct. 26, 2011 at 5:26 a.m.

The city of Victoria will incur more expense after rejecting a deal with a volunteer labor force for Riverside Stadium.

Yet neither side can agree on why the volunteers were rebuffed.

For the past decade, Friends of Victoria Baseball had maintained Riverside Stadium and managed the stadium's concession stand at no cost to taxpayers. The organization was incorporated in 2001.

However, during that time, the city has spent at least $271,334.42 in improvements and supplies to the stadium, according to information provided by Doug Cochran, city parks and recreation director. The city also has spent $30,000 to $35,000 annually in supplies.

The city ended its agreement with the Friends group on Sept. 15 after notifying the organization that it planned to seek bids for concession sales.

The city also is taking over maintenance at Riverside Stadium, Lowe and Rippamonti fields, Cochran said.

Victoria has since modified its plan, allowing organizations that use the stadium to be responsible for their own concession-stand services. The Victoria Generals, University of Houston-Victoria and local high schools baseball teams use the stadium.

Added costs

Assistant City Manager Bruce Ure said the nonprofit agreement's cancellation will add costs to the city.

The action has one councilman asking why the city gave up free services.

"It doesn't make good fiscal sense," said Councilman David Hagan.

The city canceled its agreement with the Friends organization because its representatives said volunteer numbers were dwindling and they wanted to retire from maintaining the stadium in one to two years, Cochran said. The meeting reportedly happened last year.

Ure added that the cancellation was a business decision to bring the stadium to the next level.

But the Friends organization never said it wanted to stop maintaining the stadium, said Jack Daniels, the group's secretary-treasurer. Cochran identified Daniels as being at the meeting.

While the group's numbers have decreased, Daniels said he told Cochran that Winston Wheeler, president of the Friends organization, wanted the group to continue.

Cochran declined to address Daniels' assertion. Cochran also canceled an interview with the Advocate. He wrote in an email that he would give a report to city council on Tuesday.

The Advocate has filed an open-records request for all emails and documents relating to Riverside Stadium since Jan. 1, 2010, to try to understand what happened at the meeting with Cochran and Daniels and since then.

Daniels said park volunteers were discussed at the Aug. 8 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission. The Advocate filed an open-records request with the city for the minutes of that meeting.

"I imagine some people are upset. You got a lot of blood, sweat and tears out there," Dan Oliver, who managed the concession stand, said about the cancellation.

In addition to caring for the grass, laying bricks and more, group members had also restored the historic stadium from the damage of the 1998 flood. The group spent more than $400,000 to refurbish the stadium, raised mostly through donations and grants, according to Advocate archives.

Past differences

Differences of opinion between the city and Friends also exist over equipment and field maintenance.

The volunteer group disagreed how the fields were cut. They stopped allowing city staff to use its equipment after the equipment got damaged, Cochran explained. The group blamed the city for the damage. Cochran said his workers weren't responsible.

The group allowed the city to use its reel mower, but the city didn't grease the mower, said Gary Slough, who was a group maintenance volunteer. The group spent about $7,000 getting its equipment refurbished, and it cost about $300 to fix the mower when the bearings went out from lack of grease.

Equipment on the group's John Deere drag machine also got damaged , and someone responded by tying a piece back together, Slough said.

Operating concessions

Under the new arrangement, organizations using the stadium will operate the concession stand.

St. Joseph High School, which uses the stadium, wasn't sure yet how it would operate the concession stand, said Donnie Slatter, the school's athletic director.

The new set-up could help the Victoria Generals because the team could reap the full profits from the concession stand, general manager Blake Koch said. The Generals loved the Friends organization and were interested in contracting with them for concession services.

What UHV will sell at the concession stand will depend on what equipment the city puts into the stand, said Ashley Wayuchow, athletic director. It was his understanding that the city would furnish the stand with equipment.

Council reaction

Council members had mixed opinions on the changes.

Mayor Will Armstrong said he believed the city had yet to come to a final resolution on the stadium.

Councilman Tom Halepaska agreed.

The council should find out why the decision to nix the agreement was made, said Councilman Gabriel Soliz. It was the council's job to ensure transparency, he said.

Councilman Joe Truman said he was a fan of the Friends organization and the inexpensive prices at the concession stand. But the decision to fully take over the stadium was a city management one and not the council's.

Truman hoped that the city could make an agreement with the Friends group to let them continue operating the concession stand.

He and Hagan said an apology may be appropriate.

Councilwoman Denise Rangel was glad the city no longer planned to go ahead with bidding out the concession stand. High school booster clubs need that money, she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Paul Polasek said it was time for the stadium to be under one entity, crediting the Friends group with rescuing the stadium.



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