Seven-year effort culminates in recreational facility
MANTI—When about 100 people gathered to cut a ribbon at the Manti Sports Park last Wednesday, it was the culmination of a seven-year effort, which was punctuated by good luck and possibly some divine intervention.
The area where children were playing was being held in reserve by the cemetery management so there were no graves yet. “But we received some criticism and ridicule from media outlets and citizens,” he said.
“We knew we had to do something, so we got the funding, and now, thankfully, as a community, this has happened,” the mayor said as people in the crowd looked across the 40-acre site containing five lighted baseball/softball fields, a concession building, two parking lots and generous open space at the sides and rear of the fields.
The mayor thanked the citizens of Manti. Then he added, “As I stand here, with the temple in the background, we also need to thank our Father in Heaven. This property was owned by five separate landowners, and I’m sure He had a hand in having everything come together so we could build this complex.”
One of the first steps toward development of the park was setting up a citizen advisory group, the Sports Complex Committee, in 2014, which was chaired by Andy Cox of Manti, an electrical contractor.
The group’s original vision was four ball diamonds like Ephraim has in its Family Park. But “as we toured some facilities throughout the state, we liked the five-plex design,” Kent Barton, the city manager, said.
The five-plex layout left more space in the middle for a concession building, which today houses restrooms, equipment storage and an area for scorekeepers. And the five-diamond scheme was more adaptable to football and soccer, not just baseball and softball.
In early 2015, city leaders and committee members started looking for land. They originally focused on a parcel close to Manti High School but couldn’t close a deal.
“We went to Plan B,” Barton said, which was to buy land from the five owners. The target parcels bordered U.S. 89 north of 800 North and extended from the highway down to the equivalent of about two blocks to the west.
“We really feel fortunate to have been successful in getting that tied up in a relatively short period. If one holdout hadn’t gone along, we would have had to go to Plan C,” Barton said.
One of the parcels had a vacant house, some agricultural buildings and a metal shed on it. It also had the only tree on the whole 40 acres.
“That tree had been a landmark for many years,” Barton said. And city leaders and committee members thought the shed might be great for equipment storage. So the “request for proposal” (RFP) for firms to design the park included a requirement that the tree and shed be preserved.
About the time they were looking for land, people working on the project started figuring out how to finance the park. The estimated price tag was $4 million.
Manti City had almost $1 million in the bank. Other funding sources included a sports and recreation savings account the city had built over many years, a $100,000 grant from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, and other donations from Utah Fast Pass (a caravan of luxury sports cars and drivers who had visited Manti multiple times), the Ed Roth-Rat Fink organization, Security National Mortgage and the Manti Improvement Committee (formerly the Manti Business Improvement Committee).
Additionally, Dr. John Frischknecht of Provo, formerly of Manti, and his wife, Susan, donated 5 acres at the north end of the park that are yet to be developed for soccer fields.
By 2016, the city had selected Jones & DeMille Engineering of Manti and Richfield as designers and engineers.
The firm put together an application to the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB). By the end of 2016, the CIB had awarded $3 million in a half grant, half loan.
In April 2017, about 15 people associated with the project, ranging from city officials to Sports Complex Committee members to children expected to participate in sports in the park, gathered for the groundbreaking.
Construction went smoothly, Barton said, and by late 2018, it was time for grass. The city chose to hydroseed rather than lay sod because hydroseeding costs less, and experts say it creates a better playing surface.
But after the grass was in, “The weeds came on much faster than the grass,” Barton recalled. Pretty soon, hundreds of sunflowers were rising well above the ground. Some citizens started asking questions.
Turf experts said that as soon as the grass sprouted and the city started mowing it, the weeds would go away, and things worked out “exactly as the experts told us,” Barton said.
During 2019, a few games were played in the park as city workers paved the parking lots and put up light towers. The city expected to have a kickoff and put the park into full operation in 2020. “Then we got hit by COVID. It (the park) didn’t get much use in 2020 at all.”
But this year, the park has been in full use by the Manti community recreation program, local visiting teams and adult leagues from around the state. Several multi-day or weekend adult tournaments have been held there.
“One of the reasons we did this was to help bring people to town to help with economic development,” Barton said. “The groups that have scheduled tournaments have been really happy with the facility, the condition of the fields and the beauty of the setting.”
Community recreation programs in Ephraim, Manti and Gunnison have joined in what they call the “super site” concept. All teams in a given sport from all three towns play on the same night at the same location.
One time the super site might be in Ephraim, another time in Gunnison and another time at the Manti Sports Park. At the sports park, up to 50 soccer games can be played over an afternoon and evening.
In the past, different Manti teams might be playing at the same time at the high school, elementary school and in other towns. Parents with several children had to divide themselves among the locations.
Now “parents can go to one facility and see all of their kids play,” Barton said. “It’s much more efficient for families—and more enjoyable.”