SCHENECTADY — If you clean it up, they will come.
At least that’s what one city resident is hoping as he aims to plant his own field of dreams at a neglected and overgrown baseball field in the city’s Bellevue neighborhood.
Robert Dobbs, 28, believes he can breathe new life into the Fourth Street field at Hillhurst Park by organizing recreational activities for city youngsters between the ages of 4 and 12.
Those events could range from traditional sports to specialized events like a “hair day,” for instance, designed to boost adolescent confidence.
The programming will not only resurrect the now-fallow space, but also offer guidance and structure to at-risk youth, Dobbs said.
“I honestly believe building this park up will be a blessing for city and inner-city children,” Dobbs told the City Council last Monday. “Without goals, our kids will be nothing — I’ve seen it too many times.”
Dobbs, a clothing line entrepreneur, believes he can leverage his existing connections and relationships in the city to make his proposal a success.
The Woodlawn resident debuted a volleyball event last year, an event he hopes will be the first in an annual tradition, and attracted 150 people to the Fourth Street field earlier this summer for a community kickball tournament.
“I have the voice of the people,” Dobbs said. “I can make it happen.”
He wants to start with a community cleanup event as a sign of good faith, pledging to mobilize 150 people to pitch in. He also feels confident he can marshal support from area businesses.
Dobbs pitched his proposal as the city is weighing the future of that field, as well as the Michigan Avenue field in Mont Pleasant.
Conditions at the Fourth Street field are in freefall: The long-neglected dugout and clubhouse are rotting, and city officials are weighing if the infrastructure should be ripped out.
City Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond acknowledged that the long-standing agreements that saw local athletic leagues use the city-owned fields in exchange for maintenance upkeep have eroded over the years as the city's baseball culture has shrunk.
LaFond asked lawmakers in June to determine how the fields should be used. That future use would ideally drive a maintenance strategy for the facilities, he said, and will allow the city to better allocate its limited resources.
The City Council’s Health and Recreation Committee is awaiting a report that would detail a cost estimate for repairs and demolitions at the Bellevue field, as well as the Michigan Avenue field in Mont Pleasant.
Councilman Vince Riggi said he is awaiting the details of LaFond’s report before endorsing a plan of action.
The first priority, he said, is to ensure the field doesn’t remain an eyesore.
Riggi said he isn’t automatically opposed to Dobbs’ proposal, but those wishing to utilize city property must have the proper permits and insurance coverage and should ideally carry a 501c3 non-profit status.
“It’s going to be a process,” Riggi said, “and City Council will entertain any proposals for the fields.”
Dobbs said he is aware of the insurance concerns.
“I would want to sit down and study more about it to know what needs to be done,” he said.
Dobbs has already secured early support from the neighboring homeowner who originally alerted lawmakers to the conditions earlier this spring.
“I’m totally behind it,” said Ed Varno. “He wants to work with underprivileged kids in the city and help kids who are heading down the wrong path get on the right path.”
Dobbs’ mother, Kelly Ann Dobbs, also implored lawmakers to consider her son’s proposal.
She grew up in Bellevue as part of a family of 13, with all 7 of her brothers playing Little League.
“Bring these activities back,” she said. “That’s what Bellevue needs. Schenectady needs it.”