December 23, 2013

Merchants Park is expected to be the largest single beneficiary of the hotel-motel tax in Carroll over the next the five years.

In a planning document on the 7 percent tax at lodging facilities in Carroll, city officials budget $250,000 toward improvements at Merchants Park in fiscal year 2014-2015, which starts July 1, 2014. Another $250,000 in funding is expected to come through other sources in the city. Private donations may factor in the mix as well.

In fiscal years 2016-2017 and 2017-1018, the city expects to spend a total of $300,000 from the hotel-motel tax on a $1.1 million plan for trails development.

The $250,000 outlay from lodging taxes for the historic baseball park would be the largest single expenditure of hotel-motel money since the city began collecting the taxes in 2008.

According to state law, at least half of the hotel-motel tax money must go to tourism promotion. The city - which expects to collect about $210,000 a year from hotel-motel taxes - will start with a balance in hotel-motel coffers of just over $83,000 next year, allowing it to make the big move on behalf of the ballpark should the council seek that option. The implementation of the hotel-motel tax plans and the overall capital-improvement program depend on decisions the council makes during the budgeting process.

The West Des Moines landscape architect whose firm evaluated Merchants Park, the Carroll baseball stadium dedicated in 1949, said the facility "still has a lot of life left in it."

In fact, earlier this year, when pressed on how long the stadium could stand in working order, Craig Erickson of Shive-Hattery, said cement structures date to the Roman Empire. He said Shive-Hattery didn't even consider proposing an alternate plan of razing the baseball stadium and building a new one.

"With some love and care I think it's got a lot of life," Erickson said.

That love does come at a cost, though. Shive-Hattery's Carroll Stadium Building Condition Study proposes about $500,000 in improvements to the stadium, which seats 680 people.

The primary work would involve the restrooms and concession stands. Currently, the restrooms do not meet federal standards for disabled people, and the facilities are not large enough to accommodate larger tournaments. Options for the stadium include building larger restrooms in the addition to the southwest and moving concessions under the bleachers or placing smaller restrooms under the bleachers and remodeling the concessions in the current location.

Other work recommended includes:

- Refurbishing concrete risers

- Repairing concrete columns under the roof

- Repairing crumbling wall on the first base side

- Widening of stairs and addition of handrails in the center of aisles

- Adding eight spaces for wheelchairs, four each on opposite sides of the stadium. Having the seating at the ends of the stadium will limit the amount of walking traffic in front of the disabled and provide them with the best view possible of the games, Erickson said.

"It's a value judgment in terms of how you accommodate that," Erickson said.

- Replace planking in the dugouts

- Consider raising, lowering or leaving the dugouts at the current grade.

Carroll voters in late 2007 overwhelmingly passed the city hotel-motel tax. The 7 percent tax passed with 77 percent of the vote, 715-211. County Auditor Joan Schettler reported a 13 percent turnout. The tax passed all four wards. There is no sunset on the tax.

The city's capital-improvement plan shows planned spending of $22,000 each of the next five years through the hotel-motel tax for tourism promotion in the county. Another $10,000 annually will go to cultural support with an additional $10,000 slated in each of those years for community-development promotions.

The hotel-motel taxes have exceeded the city's expectations in the last two fiscal years - with collections at $226,799 in fiscal year 2011-2012; and at $217,367 in fiscal year 2012-2013.