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(LITITZ, Pa.-LititzDailyNews.com)–For over 20 years, Little League players have eagerly taken to the two fields behind the historic brick Wilbur Chocolate Factory in downtown Lititz for one purpose: to play ball. Now the owners of a Lancaster professional baseball team have plans which, if approved, would displace the pint-sized players.

A screenshot of the Oak Tree Development Group website shows its principal owners, who also own the Lancaster Barnstormers.

The owners of the Lancaster Barnstormers— Ian Ruzow, Rob Liss, Steve Zuckerman, and Bob Zuckerman–announced through their Oak Tree Development Group last week a plan to turn the town’s beloved Wilbur Fields into a boutique hotel, luxury apartments, and two structures housing 55-plus condominiums.

“Oak Tree is excited to have an opportunity to work on a project that will create jobs and respect the small-town charm of Lititz,” says Oak Tree president Mike O’Brien in a press release issued by the company last Tuesday. O’Brien was not immediately available to speak today about the plan. Oak Tree’s Eric Scott did not return a call for comment by press time.

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In September of 2016, the Barnstormers owners asked Lancaster County for $5.85 million dollars over 9 years to help pay their rent at Clipper Stadium, according to a story on LancasterOnline. 

The following month, LNP reported that Lancaster County Commissioners offered Barnstormers owners a $2.7 million loan to cover the stadium rent.

Critics of the Lititz construction plan question the impact on the small town where Little League players and the town’s historic Fourth of July Fireworks display will both be displaced by the proposed development.

Warwick Little League leaders reacted to the news on the league’s Facebook page on Thursday.
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“While we are saddened and extremely disappointed by the news we are will be losing our home base at the Wilbur Complex, the Warwick Little League Board of Directors is continuing to work diligently on finding new spaces, re-purposing older spaces, and will not give up on our players or our successful program!” a post reads.

“We’re sad for the boys,” Sarah Hoover wrote to LititzDailyNews.com. Her son, Caedmon, plays on Wilbur Fields. After learning the news, Hoover started the Facebook page, “Save Wilbur Fields” to raise awareness in the community in the hopes of making a difference for the young players.

“I’m glad there will be a new use there,” said Cory Van Brookhoven, a borough council member who writes for the Lititz Record, in a story published in the Central Penn Business Journal. The Lititz Record, which is owned by Steinman Communications, was reportedly the only Lititz news outlet provided the press release by Oak Tree Development. Steinman Communications also owns LNP/Lancaster Online, a major sponsor of the Lancaster Barnstormers.

Owners of the Barnstormers could not be reached today for comment. A spokesperson for the Barnstormers declined to provide access to the owners and referred requests for comment on this story to Oak Tree Development, who did not respond to requests for comment today.

“We are working as hard as we can with Oak Tree, with Cargill, with the borough and the community to ensure a good home for Warwick Little League,” said Spencer Todd, president of the Warwick league. What does he make of the fact that the Barnstormers owners are behind the bid to bump his little league players off Wilbur fields? “I can’t say it’s anything less than ironic,” said Spence.

“You would sure hope that with all the things that the youth baseball programs and youth sports programs put back into the Barnstormers, the Barnstormers can help put that back into Warwick Little League,” Spence said.

According to a report last Wednesday in the Lititz Record, Oak Tree Development is expected to submit plans to the borough in the next 60 days.

It’s unclear, however, whether the property purchase is complete. A Cargill spokesperson declined to comment whether the sale transaction had gone through, deferring to Oak Tree for comment.

According to Spence, who’s been in contact with Cargill representatives, the sale is not finalized.

“The deal is not done,” said Spence.”Cargill still owns the facilty. They still own the property.”

Connect with your government: Lititz Borough Council meets tonight, Tuesday, May, 30, in Borough Council Chambers at 7 S. Broad St., Lititz.

Note: This story was updated to include a quote from Lititz Borough Council member Cory Van Brookhoven that was originally published by the Central Penn Business Journal. It was inadvertently omitted from our original story.

This story was updated to include an interview with Spencer Todd, president of Warwick Little League.

Lynn Rebuck is the editor of LititzDailyNews.com, an independent, national award-winning digital news site. We rely on financial support from the community via the PayPal button below to keep publishing. Email Lynn at editor@LititzDaily.com.
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