PALMETTO -- Construction has finally begun at Blackstone Park for three long-awaited Little League baseball fields.
County workers began the underground utility work for the $3.3 million dollar project at 2112 14th Ave. W. The fields will be built by the county with the help of city funds.
"We are leading the construction of the project," Manatee County Parks and Recreation Director Cindy Turner said. "We are also providing the property and the annual operations."
The Pittsburgh Pirates Charities organization made a $75,000 contribution toward the project last month during a presentation at McKechnie Field.
"We have been working with them, but it was still a nice and pleasant surprise," Turner said.
Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant was there to accept the gift, and Palmetto city commissioners publicly thanked the Pittsburgh Pirates at a recent commission meeting.
"We all extend a big thank-you to the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was a great thing for them to do," Vice Mayor Tamara Cornwell said. "We really do appreciate that."
Palmetto officially wired over their financial contribution of $800,000 to the county on March 8. The city's portion came from tax dollars in addition to proceeds from the sale of land to the school district for a new elementary school.
The county will be using money from the park impact fees to fund the remainder of the project.
The new fields are sched
uled to be completed by the 2014 fall season for more than 200 youths who participate in the North River American Little League in Palmetto.
Until then, the teams are using the softball field at Blackstone or the baseball fields at Buffalo Creek Park or Palmetto High School.
An official groundbreaking ceremony is in the works by county staff and could happen sometime in April.
The push for the baseball fields has been in the works since 2009. The site plan was approved by the City Commission on Jan. 7.
The interlocal agreement making the dream a reality was agreed to Feb. 4 by the Palmetto City Commission and Feb. 12 by the Manatee County Commission.
The expansion will also include a parking lot, press box, concession building, bleachers, sidewalks and lighting.
Jessica De Leon, urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. Follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.