BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — The Ned Skeldon Stadium’s grandstand and bleachers will be demolished by the end of the year, but the Lucas County Commissioners hope to hit a home run with plans for the Lucas County Recreation Center.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity of what we can do with this land and recreation going forward,” said commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak. The daughter of late commissioner Ned Skeldon, for whom that stadium is named, joined commissioners Gary Byers and Pete Gerken at the rec center on February 15 for a press conference.
Commissioners are seeking requests for proposals (RFQs) on how to best utilize the entire 98 acres of county-owned land that includes sports facilities and the fairgrounds.
“We want to develop a comprehensive and optimal plan for the future use of this facility going forward,” Byers said. “It will be a top-to-bottom analysis of every aspect of the center and the groups that use it.”
In addition to the Lucas County Fair Board, the rec center is used by the Mid American Masters Baseball League (MAMBL), Toledo Handball Club, Toledo Volleyball Club, Toledo Quarter Midget Racing and many youth baseball and softball teams. Representatives of those organizations were on hand as commissioners announced their plans.
“It may look like it needs an upgrade here and it does,” Skeldon Wozniak said. “We are very thoughtful through this RFQ process and demolition of how we can make sure this is a place for all users and continue to support their dreams.”
Recreation is a big part of quality of life in any community, and the thousands of people using the rec center factor into Skeldon Wozniak’s belief that the focus in the future should remain on recreation.
In the process of conducting a feasibility study, all of the users as well as neighbors and the city of Maumee administration will be consulted, said Byers, a Maumee resident. While the county owns the property, Maumee decides how it’s zoned. It is currently zoned for single-family homes and operating with a nonconforming use permit, said Maumee Mayor Rich Carr.
Over the years, Carr has asked the county commissioners to look at turning over the land to Maumee or the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. He’d like to see the ball diamonds and volleyball building remain but use the rest for a mixed-use development with single-family homes and a walking path.
“We’ve brought developers to them and talked. We had it laid out to what we thought could be a good use of the property,” Carr said. “The property needs to be cleaned up. It doesn’t match how the rest of Maumee is maintained.”
Several years ago, after a wall of the stadium fell down, Maumee representatives began asking county commissioners to tear down the stadium, which was used by the Mud Hens from 1965 to 2002. Since then, the field has been used by college baseball teams and now MAMBL.
The demolition will have little impact on the existing facility, Skeldon Wozniak said. That’s good news to Tim Egan, MAMBL field manager, who explained that games continue to be played at the field, but fans are not allowed in the grandstand and seats.
While Ned Skeldon was known for bringing baseball back to Maumee, he also made the decision to install handball courts at the rec center in 1973, said Jim Lowe, a 51-year member of the Toledo Handball Club.
“Before that, we played at the downtown YMCA. In the spring, the walls would get wet from humidity and we couldn’t play,” he said. With the addition of three-wall courts, the club was able to host tournaments that bring hundreds of players and spectators to Maumee, where they stay at hotels and frequent area restaurants. Maumee’s facility is still considered among the best in the nation.
Gerken is confident that the RFQ process will yield the best results for the future of the rec center. In the mid-2000s, the same process was used when developing downtown Toledo’s Huntington Center.
“We asked, ‘If we build a multi-sports complex, where will it be and how will it work?’ The Huntington met all of the promises that the feasibility study gave us,” Gerken said. “We did the same with the renovation of the convention center and hotel. We’ll have experts come in and say what will work. The future is with this RFQ.”
In addition to consulting neighbors, sports organizations and Maumee administration, the commissioners plan to include Toledo Mud Hens and Walleye president and CEO Joe Napoli as an advisor in that feasibility study.
While the demolition of the stadium will be postponed until after this year’s baseball season is over, Byers anticipates receiving proposals for the study by mid-March.