By Alicia Robinson

In tough economic times, some people count themselves fortunate to have a home. Corona National Little League is about to join the fortunate.

Construction is expected to start in December on El Cerrito Sports Park, a collaboration between Riverside County and the city of Corona. When finished, it will become Corona National Little League’s official home.

Besides four baseball/softball fields, the $13.5 million park will offer three fields for soccer and football, two courts each for basketball and tennis, a tot lot and a building for indoor activities.

“The demand is extremely high. In Corona, youth sports is a major part of this community,” Corona Parks and Community Services Director Gabe Garcia said.

The county will pay to build the park and oversee its construction, and the city will maintain it and will handle park programs and schedule field use. County supervisors voted this month to approve the park budget, which was about $4.5 million less than expected, and to hire a contractor to do the work.

The park will serve young athletes from the city of Corona as well as unincorporated El Cerrito, which is east of south Corona.

“It’s a great joint use between the county and the city and it’s been several years in the making,” Garcia said.

One cause of delay was an eminent domain battle with property owner Roger E. Bacon, who owns a 5.65-acre parcel the county needed for the 26-acre park. Bacon turned down several offers from the county, including one to pay him $6.5 million, because he said he was being low-balled.

The county proceeded to take the property by eminent domain. Though the court case is still pending, a judge this summer allowed the county to take possession of the parcel so work can begin on the park.

“That doesn’t mean the issue has been resolved — it just means the county’s going to end up with (the land),” said John Field, chief of staff for Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione. The supervisor helped push for the park, which is in his district.

Field said the park is a win-win project because the limited growth in El Cerrito couldn’t fund a park of the magnitude officials have planned, and youth from around the region desperately need more places to practice and play.

But the new sports park may mean the most to Corona National Little League. The league hasn’t had an official home in a decade, and its teams, which include 600 to 700 children, now play at parks scattered around Corona, league President Kurt Gairing said.

“We’ve kind of been bumped from park to park in anticipation of this park finally going through,” Gairing said. “It will be the first time in approximately 10 years that I can have our entire league playing at one facility.”

The new park also will allow for larger crowds of spectators at games, and Gairing hopes to host Little League all-star tournaments there. He said his players plan to hold fundraisers to pay for scoreboards and other extras at the park.

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