COSTA MESA — A community task force will work with a private developer known for building small-scale replicas of Major League Baseball stadiums to remodel and take over operations at TeWinkle Park.
The agreement approved Tuesday by the City Council with Big League Dreams USA is expected to save on maintenance costs and generate revenue for the city.
Though exact forecasts were not available, one scenario predicted City Hall would earn about $300,000 annually from the deal.
Richard Odekirk, managing director of the Chino Hills-based firm, said it could remake the park at 970 Arlington Ave. for $5 million and create a significant revenue stream for Costa Mesa.
"We've known about TeWinkle Park for a long time," Odekirk told the council. "We believe it should be the jewel of this area."
The firm discussed renovating TeWinkle's grass fields and adding a restaurant that serves pizza and alcohol — the biggest generator of revenue for Big League Dreams sites.
Odekirk said his firm can add as many or as few amenities as the city likes.
Council members argued the park is under-utilized and costs hundreds of thousands to maintain annually, with little to show for the investment.
The firm would pay for the project at no cost to the city, Odekirk said.
Ultimately, council members split on the decision with a 3-1 vote. Council members Steve Mensinger, Jim Righeimer and Mayor Gary Monahan voted in favor. Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissented. Councilman Eric Bever was absent.
Big League Dreams' proposal met stiff resistance from Mesa del Mar homeowners, who pledged to oppose any plans that would increase lighting or noise from the park.
The council's choice came after hours of discussion, along with two other prospective firms telling the council it was moving too fast.
"From where I stand, the horse is a specific set of specifications that have been vetted that you've worked through with your residents," said Dave Johnson, president of Major League Softball Inc. "We're the carts. To select a cart tonight would be backwards."
Leece shared the same concerns.
When Mensinger and Righeimer questioned each firm about its business models, potential costs and revenues of operating TeWinkle Park, the business owners could only offer guesses.
Instead of one floated option — creating a community task force to nail down what the community wants from the park — the council majority looked to first pick a company to work with and then have the task force polish the details afterward.
"I think there needs to be more dialogue with the community, what they're looking for," Bill Berghoff, president of Sportsplex USA told the council.
Odekirk, however, said he understood what the council was doing and was experienced in working with community groups to develop a park to their specifications.
Righeimer explained his reasoning.
"For all the community to get together and sit in a room — OK, let's face it. There's not going to be anything there," Righeimer said. "It just won't happen. That's a given, if everybody shows up and looks at each other because there's nobody there that wants to solve the problem or figures how to solve the problem or knows how to solve the problem."
On the employment front, the council also approved 3-1 to send out bids for outsourcing three more city services: graffiti cleanup, street and storm drain maintenance, and animal control.