Baltimore Beach Volleyball Gains Community Support for Future at Rash Field

| January 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Photo Courtesy of the Baltimore Beach Volleyball Facebook Page

Beach volleyball has been a staple of the Inner Harbor’s Rash Field for the last 15 years, with league play for the last 13 years, but its future remains in the air as the city looks to implement the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan, which includes the redevelopment of Rash Field. The plan, which was released in November 2013 by Baltimore City, the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, and the Greater Baltimore Committee, would likely feature a first floor parking garage on Rash Field with a park built on top of it. The plan includes ideas for the redeveloped park, such as water and sculpture gardens, a barge pool, a public beach, a carousel, a children’s science garden, and playgrounds, but no mention of a space for beach volleyball.

This omission has led to a passionate response not just from the volleyball community of Baltimore, but from the communities surrounding the waterfront and of South Baltimore. David Sivak, who is not a volleyball player but who has met many people who are, decided to rally support for beach volleyball as a part of the future of Rash Field.  “It’s an iconic spot for residents and one of the only parts of the Inner Harbor that makes Baltimore feel like home,” said Sivak, who is a resident of Mt. Vernon, a former two-year resident of Federal Hill, and a current board member of Federal Hill Main Street.

Sivak and Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV), the organization that maintains the courts and runs leagues, camps, clinics, tournaments and open volleyball play, are not against the redevelopment of Rash Field and the addition of new attractions coming to the space, but feel beach volleyball should be included in the plan.

“We have worked with an architect on some concepts and we would need only 10% of the proposed park to have a 10-court setup,” said BBV President Todd Webster, who additionally noted that the proposed park (see concept below) would be approximately 467,700 sq. ft. and each court needs 4,000 sq. ft. Rash Field currently has seven volleyball courts, as well as a running track, an open green space, a carousel, a Pride of Baltimore memorial and garden, and permanent concrete and wood bleachers. The park was originally intended to be used as a high school sports field and, along with beach volleyball, has been used in recent history as a space for a winter ice rink, the site of a former trapeze school, and event space.

BBV runs league play at Rash Field seven days a week until 10pm from March through October, as well as hosts open play on Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons throughout the year as weather permits. In 2014, BBV started a beach volleyball camp for area youths and it has hosted several tournaments throughout the year. Along with amateur tournaments, many professional beach volleyball tournaments have come to Rash Field including the National Volleyball League Pro Tour in 2012, which featured appearances by Olympic Men’s Gold Medal duo Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers.

BBV estimates that more than 2,500 weekly participants play volleyball at Rash Field, with the majority being residents of Baltimore City, as well as millennials, although many age groups are represented. “Young professionals continue to be a success story for Baltimore City.  They invest in their communities by buying homes and starting families, and we should support and grow ways that allow millennials to connect with the neighborhoods in which they live,” said Sivak.

Sivak started a petition,”Include the Baltimore Beach Volleyball courts in the future plans for Rash Field,” which now has more 1,500 signatures (there are also several hundred signatures on paper as well).  Along with the signatures are hundreds of testimonials from people speaking about how important they feel the courts are to the area. The testimonials speak to how it’s the type of venue you don’t find in any other city, its importance to locals and how it brings them to the “touristy” Inner Harbor, how many friends they’ve met from going there, it as a place they enjoy with their children, the healthy environment it creates, and the safe and positive atmosphere. Several comments from people not from the area talk about what a great impression it gave them of the city and how the venue gives them a reason to come into the city.

Sivak also began reaching out to communities around the harbor and in South Baltimore in the fall to gauge support of the initiative. The effort has been successful as 10 community groups have agreed to write a letter of support for beach volleyball at Rash Field. The organizations include: Federal Hill Business Association, Federal Hill Main Street, Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association, Key Highway Community Association, Locust Point Civic Association, Otterbein Community Association, Riverside Neighborhood Association, South Baltimore Neighborhood Association, and the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association. Sivak plans to speak with other communities as well.

“Obviously the people who play have a vested interest, but the whole point of this effort has been to show the near unanimous support from the community as a whole,” said Sivak.

District 11 Councilman Eric Costello, who has been to four different neighborhood meetings when support for beach volleyball was discussed, told SouthBMore.com that, “support for beach volleyball at Rash Field is obvious.” He noted though that he has not received any updates on the status or future plans at Rash Field.

Sivak and Webster are also quick to tell you about the public safety benefits having such an active league in the heart of Downtown Baltimore. “Show me another park in the city that has 200 people at 9 pm at night on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening,” said Webster.  “Whether you play or not, beach volleyball has made for a clean and safe environment at the Inner Harbor,” said Sivak.

Webster has submitted an application for a permit for BBV to operate this year at Rash Field and, whether or not it will be its home this year and beyond, BBV is planning a second facility because of the high demand and waiting lists to get into the leagues. Webster is moving forward on a plan in which he hopes to create a second 10-12 court facility at Middle Branch Park along the south shore of the Middle Branch in South Baltimore near Cherry Hill and Westport. He is hoping to break ground in the spring, potentially offering two locations for BBV’s summer session.

The new location would have lighting and eventually bathrooms and vending, as well as potentially a pro shop. “The entire facility would be LEED certified, using solar power and rain water. The sand is also a perfect filtration system for runoff  at both locations, helping with the initiative to eventually make the harbor swimmable and fishable,” said Webster. He estimates the new facility could be an investment of up to $1 million.

While BBV plans for its growth at a second location, BBV and Sivak are hoping this effort and public outreach will lead to them always having a home at Rash Field as well.

“I think it’s a win-win for everyone.  The residents, local economy, and the City all benefit from having a clean, active space, and Baltimore Beach has made that possible for many years now,” said Sivak. “This is something the community really cares about and that is why I am so passionate about supporting it.”

“I’m always very proud of what we’ve built. It’s not about one person or organization, it’s created by the people who go there and play there. It’s great that so many people support a sport I love,” said Webster.

SouthBMore.com reached out to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore and the Baltimore Development Corporation, the city’s development arm, for comments about the future of Baltimore Beach Volleyball but neither responded.

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About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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