In an 8-1 vote Monday, the Cranston City Council voted to give Cranston League for Cranston's Future (CLCF) the right of first refusal for use of the Brayton Avenue fields. Director of Parks and Recreation Tony Liberatore supported the resolution, saying the move protects Cranston-based leagues and athletes, giving them preference over outside requests.
Liberatore said outside leagues have posed challenges for other municipalities, including Providence, and he wants to prevent that from happening in Cranston.
"Organizations are coming into their city and, because of the youth AAU, they are taking over some fields in the city of Providence and Providence can't do a damn thing about it because there's nothing on the books," he said. "I'm trying to protect the assets of the recreational facilities in this city."
The dissenting vote came from Ward 1 Councilman Steve Stycos, who feared that money was finding its way into the discussion.
"The argument seems to be these people have spent a lot of money up there. My reaction is that we hire a recreation director to make these decisions over who can use these fields when, and we shouldn't give any groups in the city any special preference," he said. "I really object to doing it based on the amount of money that a league is able to invest in a field. If you're a poorer league, you don't get those rights."
Liberatore did concede that CLCF and Cranston Western Little League have spent significant monies in maintaining and updating recreational facilities. CLCF has spent roughly $129,000 at the 61 Brayton Ave. facility over the years, and Cranston Western has invested as much as $450,000 in Michael P. Varrato Field within the Briggs complex. The quality of the latter attracted the Eastern Region Invitational Tournament in 2010, 2011 and 2012, bringing tourists into the area and infusing money into the local food and hospitality industries.
Still, Liberatore said that is not the heart of the issue.
"No league spends the way Cranston West [Cranston Western Little League] and CLCF does in this city," he said. "It's not rich people, poor people - it's an organization. It gives us facilities that make us proud."
Liberatore said that fees for use of city fields have brought in an average of $286,000 annually over the past five years. Prior to Liberatore's arrival in the department, the annual revenues were closer to $33,000. The director says he now runs the department like a business, in that he never turns an organization away. While he wants a local league like CLCF to have first dibs on Brayton Avenue fields, if an outside AAU league requests a field, he will find another facility for them.
"I don't turn money away," he said.
Councilman Michael Farina said he trusts Liberatore's judgment, and said the resolution does not necessarily give preference to leagues with money, but rather to leagues targeting Cranston children.
"We're giving good, longstanding Cranston people and Cranston children and Cranston organizations the right of first refusal," he said.
Councilman Michael Favicchio added that the agreement is an affirmation of the work being done by those leagues and the volunteers that support them. CLCF put up a concession stand at Brayton Avenue, which includes a second floor for meeting space. They also built two backfields at that location, and when Liberatore's men are unable to make it to the field to ready it for games, CLCF volunteers step in.
"They're going to keep Cranston kids using those fields," Favicchio said of CLCF.