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Central Park

A new park being hailed by leaders as a sort of “Central Park” took further shape July 14 when the Greenville County Recreation District broke ground on four new baseball diamonds that will sit alongside Municipal Stadium on Mauldin Road.

The former Greenville Braves stadium will be renovated into the centerpiece of a $4 million investment to bring more baseball fields to the site just minutes from Mauldin.

The larger picture will show an 800-acre site that officials from several entities plan to develop into a giant park filled with trails, ball fields and perhaps a golf course near Lake Conestee.

It's a park that recreation district officials said was warranted for its central location in the county and its potential.

Construction has already begun to connect five miles of trails at the still un-named park to create a southern entrance to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, finishing a 17-mile section that would stretch north to Travelers Rest from Mauldin, said Jeff Beacham, executive director of the Lake Conestee Foundation.

For now, the new baseball fields will bring thousands of families to the park and will increase interest in the nature trails when the fields are completed, Beacham said.

The ball fields will become home to a Greenville Little League baseball program that has been stunted in its growth for lack of playing space. Officials hope to attract regional tournaments and traveling teams that would bring rental income to the site and a boost to local restaurants and hotels.

And with a good relationship with the city of Mauldin, the two could team to attract larger baseball tournaments to the area, said Gene Smith, executive director of the recreation department.

“This is going to be the center park, our own Greenville, South Carolina, Central Park,” said Greenville City Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming. “This is a great day.”

Greenville County has moved from “the bottom rung” of recreation “just a few years ago” to become “the envy of the nation,” County Council Chairman Butch Kirven said.

The park reflects a partnership between the city of Greenville, Greenville County Recreation District, Lake Conestee Foundation and Renewable Water Resources, formerly Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority, which owns 200 acres near Interstate 85 that it has allowed to be used for the Swamp Rabbit Trail connection to be built on the banks of the Reedy River.

ReWa is committed to building an “urban city park,” said Ray Orvin, ReWa's executive director.

At the heart of the baseball complex will be renovations to turn Municipal Stadium into a 1,500-seat stadium with new restrooms in a more intimate atmosphere to watch Little League games, Smith said.

Four new fields will be split into two sizes. Two fields will have 225- to 250-foot fences and 60-foot base paths for younger players, a third field can be converted between a smaller and full-sized field, and another full-sized field will have a 380-foot fence, plans show.

One field may be left with a dirt infield for softball use.

The diamonds will each have batting cages, and a central media tower will have a view of each field, Smith said. Two parking lots will add 206 spaces to 1,400 available at Municipal Stadium.

The fields should be open by summer 2011, Smith said.

The project is funded through the county's restaurant tax as part of the recreation district's Tourism, Recreation and Athletics Coalition plan started in 2006, Smith said.

Its ability to attract regional and traveling tournaments to Greenville will make it a valuable use of those tax dollars that will benefit local hotels and restaurants, White said, while its strategic location close to Interstate 85 and central location in Greenville County make it an ideal recreation site for county residents, Smith said.

Another 150 acres the city of Greenville owns could become a golf course or some other green space on a closed landfill site, White said.

By Nathaniel Cary • Tribune-Times Writer • Published: July 20. 2010 10:39AM

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Gene Smith, executive director of the Greenville County Recreation District, describes the new baseball complex at the grounds of the Municipal Stadium. (GWINN DAVIS/Staff)