A new soccer field at the Howard Memorial Sports Park is ready for play, but is surrounded by acres of weeds, as a foundation looks for funds to get the west Medford park up to speed. - Jim Craven

Slow going for park

A bright green soccer field and a new parking area in northwest Medford are surrounded by acres of weeds, a testament to the difficulties in fulfilling a dream of building a sports park.

"We've got a soccer field in, but we have a substantial way to go," said state Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, who is on the board of directors of the Wes Howard Foundation. "The economy has been a real killer."

A 60-plus-acre sports park at Ross Lane and Rossanley Drive is the legacy of Howard, who died in 2003 at age 87 and left behind an estate valued at $11 million, about $1 million of which was in cash.

He lived in an 1890-era, two-story Victorian farmhouse on the property without indoor plumbing.

The house has since been demolished.

Esquivel said much of the $1 million has been used for roadwork, drainage and sewer and water lines. These improvements will help in the development of the park.

"A million dollars doesn't go very far," Esquivel said.

To push forward, the foundation must raise another $6 million to $8 million to build other projects on the wish list, he said, adding that applying for grants will be key.

Included in Howard's estate are about 10 acres on West Main Street that are leased to Bi-Mart and the Original Roadhouse Grill.

Esquivel said the foundation could continue to derive money from the lease payments, or sell the property outright to bring in enough cash to build other athletic fields and facilities at the park.

According to an estimate by the Jackson County Assessor's Office, the 10 acres has a real market value of almost $3.5 million.

Plans for the park also remain fluid. Four additional soccer fields could be built along with some basketball courts.

The original design featured an Olympic-size swimming pool and new YMCA building, three soccer fields, two indoor and two outdoor basketball courts, two regulation baseball fields, two Babe Ruth baseball fields, eight softball fields, four volleyball courts, five tennis courts, batting cages and a skate park.

The YMCA had plans to build a $15 million to $20 million facility on the property, but has tabled discussions because of the present economic climate. The organization does plan to make use of the facilities at the park.

Esquivel said discussions are in the works to bring in local soccer organizations that would take advantage of the new field and stimulate more interest in the park.

John Schleining, of Howard Memorial Sports Park Inc. and a director on the foundation board, said the work to build the soccer field was more involved than anticipated. Dirt and sand had to be brought in and drainpipes installed so water didn't pool.

He said it also was more time-consuming than first thought to get all the permits approved from the county.

While the soccer field has had limited use over the past year, the grass has grown in enough that Schleining expects to see more soccer teams playing on the grounds over the next month.

During the next 30 days, he said there should be some rough grading work on a second soccer field.

The foundation is in the process of writing about a dozen grants to help secure money to build some of the facilities.

The soccer field isn't lighted for nighttime playing, but Schleining said he hopes to put lighting on some baseball fields. He said the lighting has to be mindful of the surrounding neighborhood.

Ross Lane is scheduled for improvement in the future. Schleining said the foundation has been working with the county to provide the land needed for the widening project.

Both Schleining and Esquivel say it could take some time before Howard park is built out.

"It's not going to be an overnight project," said Esquivel. "It will take time, but we'll get there."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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