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City / Sharks pact draws support — and criticism

Sounds like a great idea that luckily landed in Merced’s lap with little effort.

A blacktop at Applegate Park will be transformed into a new “tealtop” street hockey court for kids as part of an initiative by the San Jose Sharks Foundation.

The Sharks — a nationally known hockey team — and its foundation would also provide all the hockey equipment, some guidance, and a considerable amount of marketing at Sharks games that would draw new attention to Merced.

The rest would be made possible via a public-partnership between the City of Merced, which would provide program funding, and the El Capitan Hotel and Mainzer Theater — two downtown businesses operating under the international Hyatt corporation that are actively trying to improve the downtown scene, as well as their own presence.

At the most recent meeting of the Merced City Council, a majority of city leaders reacted positively to the proposal, referring to it as a great opportunity that should not be passed up. Also, several members of the public either spoke up at the meeting or sent in recommendations to support and even praise the move.

“We are making a mistake if we turn this down,” said Mayor Matthew Serratto.

Finally, a split City Council voted 3-2 to support the proposal and direct staff to move it forward. Councilmen Fernando Echevarria and Jesse Ornelas voted NO.

However, the discussion was not without some interesting criticism of the youth sports idea and its high-profile support.

Some questioned the location of Applegate when other parks need attention. Some questioned the idea that a popular basketball court would be removed for a new sport that is unproven in the area. Others asked why local young people were yet involved in the decision-making — after all they are the ones being impacted.

“My only concern is that there doesn’t seem to be a long-term or short-term plan for Applegate Park,” said Jeana Peters who lives across from the park. “In actuality, there is a lot going on in the park, and it’s getting pretty full. The park was originally a passive-use park. I would like to see it continue be as much as a passive-use park as possible. And I’d like to see that as it’s vision. The last master plan for the park that I have seen was in 2003.”

Merced native Molly Bane said: “There is no place for people to park to go to an event at Applegate Park. … I don’t think it’s the best place for accessibility. It certainly isn’t the best place for parking.”

The very next speaker said this: “I think it’s important before we make decisions like this, that we consult those who we are trying to help. So I’m wondering if there was any survey done with the youth who attend Applegate Park? … I feel that if the El Capitan is concerned about making Merced a better place and partnering with the city, it shouldn’t be exclusive to just one park, and one area — especially where we would see a disruption for the youth [at a park where a basketball court is popular].”

Two City Council members agreed with the criticism and urged city staff to go back and rethink the idea.

“Where’s our youth? … We have all the adults speaking here. Let’s give them a chance to have some words up here instead of the adults making the decisions for them. I say let’s wait a month and come back. … Second … Let’s not take a basketball court away from our kids, OK,” said Councilman Echevarria. “I know they play there.”

Council member Ornelas said: “I would like to see the Mainzer and El Cap paying all of it. After the deal — the red carpet — that the City of Merced laid out for those two businesses I don’t feel we should be putting any more money into anything that they will be doing in this regard. And that was with the old City Council and the old mayor. And there has been questions around those monies, the sidewalk, everything that we [the city] did for those two businesses to be able to function in Merced. … I don’t see street hockey as being a big draw. … I don’t see young people excited about street hockey. And because we have all these future aspirations for Applegate Park, I think it would be irresponsible of us to put forth this money for a street hockey rink that we don’teven know if young people are going to use. Especially if we want to invest in Laura Fountain, and the zoo in the future.”

The Downtown Neighborhood Association did not take a position on the issue, but said they would support whatever the council decided.

At the end of the discussion, Mayor Serratto commented: “We are elected to do a job. And we can do outreach on everything, but that’s going to take an immense amount of time and money. And we got to use our common sense and experience at some point. Do kids like to play hockey. Yes. For me personally I’m comfortable enough with willing to take that risk.”

Serratto added that there was criticism of the skatepark area at Applegate when it was first presented.

Stay tuned. The groundbreaking for the new street hockey court at Applegate Park is expected to happen by October.

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