Jack Russell Memorial Stadium opened March 10, 1955, and the last major league game was played on March 28, 2003. For 48-years the field was host to the greats of baseball - Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Tug McGraw and Pete Rose. Plus Derek Jeter, Sandy Koufax, Johnny Bench and Willie Mays.
It was named for Jack Russell, who was a major league pitcher with the Cleveland Indians when they trained in Clearwater. After his baseball career, he moved to Clearwater, became a city commissioner and campaigned for the stadium.
Not only were the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training games at the stadium, it was the home of the Clearwater Bombers during their heyday in the 1950s, "60s and "70s. The legendary team won over 4,000 games in its career and 10 Fast Pitch National Championships. The Amateur Softball Association inducted 20 of its former players into the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame. Many old time residents credit the Bombers for putting Clearwater "on the map".
The gate receipts at the ballpark, however, did nothing for the growth of the surrounding North Greenwood area, which began to deteriorate. With the city's help, a group of activists formed a Task Force and began to work on a revival of the neighborhood. Their actions culminated in a $23-mil investment for a new library branch, the renovation of the Greenwood Apartments and the North Greenwood Recreation and Aquatic Center.
The city began dialogue on redevelopment of the stadium by distributing 1700 fliers that asked residents to give opinions and choose a slogan "listed below" that signified the character of the neighborhood. The general reply was, "Why is there a need for a North Greenwood slogan when other Clearwater neighborhoods do not have one?" Not a good beginning.
Next, the city hired a consulting firm for $70,000. The company suggested an Assisted Living Facility, which was unacceptable to the community. Heavy advertising and a mailing of 700 bid packets brought in only two proposals for the redevelopment of the 16-acre stadium site. One bidder recommended affordable apartments and townhomes plus retail/office space and a park. Another proposed an office park and St. Petersburg College classrooms
To initiate a better plan, small civic groups joined with the disbanded Task Force to form a united committee represented by the local NAACP. The organization sent a letter signed by members of the community to the city rejecting both plans but had no further suggestions at that time.
Maymie Hodges, former city commissioner, Art Godwin, longtime business owner, and Isay Gulley, Pres.& CEO of Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Service, agree that a redevelopment plan that consists of housing and locally owned businesses would be the most beneficial.
Mrs. Hodges believes that to attain the goal there must be cooperation between the community members and the city. She would like to see small businesses flourish making the neighborhood more self-sufficient.
Mr. Godwin, a member of the original Task Force, said, "The NAACP is continuing to work on the problem. The group is researching and visiting similar neighborhoods in the State for guidance."
Mrs. Gulley sees "a need to find community businessmen, who are willing to secure loans and take a financial risk. The businesses should appeal to those living inside and outside North Greenwood. The corridor south of the stadium should be extended with a mix of commercial and residential. It must be a well thought out plan, so the community would benefit directly."
The possibility of the empty stadium becoming an eyesore prompted the city commission to a "stopgap" solution in December 2003. The property was leased rent-free for two years to The Winning Inning (TWI). The Clearwater business conducts sports clinics and camps for amateur and professional athletes. Kim Hamill, office manager, stated that TWI maintains the property at its own expense and assumes the city's $25,000 to $30,000 tax burden.
TWI has sublet part of the facility to North Greenwood Boys and Girls Club. Tinisha Hinds, program director, is enthusiastic about the after school programs offered at the new clubhouse in conjunction with TWI and Extra Inning. The club also provides holiday and summer camps.
Le-Azon Technology Institute, is occupying the old library branch on Palmetto Street. Loran Barber approached the city with a petition signed by 450 citizens approving the venture. The city granted a 5-year lease rent-free with maintenance costs. The institute focuses on training and preparing young adults for "tech" jobs. It is funded by individual and corporate memberships.
These programs are temporarily saving the city money. The refurbished Palmetto Apartments currently are not paying their way. The large city-owned stadium site is not generating enough capital. Meanwhile, North Greenwood residents and city planners continue to look for a plan that is agreeable, aesthetically and financially, to both sides.
Return to Home Page
Return to Current Edition