Bocce ball plan is now in CBCA’s court

By Peggy Spear on August 13, 2013

Bocce rendering_for websiteBy this time next year, if a dedicated contingent of civic leaders keep the ball rolling, Clayton’s summer nights will be filled with the thwack of palinos hitting bocce balls.

At the last Clayton Business and Community Association (CBCA) meeting, Skip and Kent Ipsen and Ed Hartley shared their vision of having the organization help create four bocce courts at the corner of Main and Oak Streets, on property owned by the Ipsen family.

It’s an ambitious plan, and one that hinges on CBCA support, switching the tax exempt status of the CBCA, city planning approval and funding for the $250,000 project.

But, borrowing from another sports metaphor, Skip Ipsen and Hartley think that they have their bases covered.

“This is by far the biggest endeavor CBCA has ever done,” Hartley says. “But it’s really a win-win-win for the city. Not only do we think we can afford it, the idea of bringing a vibrant presence to downtown Clayton will be a boon for current and future businesses.”

Under the proposal, the Ipsens will build the courts on their property during the planned remodel of Skipolini’s restaurant next January. Skip Ipsen would also contribute $125,000 cash to the CBCA, while the club would agree to front the remaining $125,000. CBCA would operate and maintain the courts, and residents would have the opportunity to purchase “naming rights” to the courts, benches tables and other attractions at the lot.

To solicit donations, CBCA would have to ask the IRS to change its status from a 501(c)(4) “social group” to a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, a process that can take as long as several months.

“We’ve talked about doing that for years anyway,” says Hartley, past-president of CBCA. “Now, we have the impetus.”

Bocce talk is nothing new for Hartley. As a vice-commissioner of the Concord Bocce Federation – which maintains the bocce courts at Newhall and Baldwin Parks – he knows what goes in to creating what he calls “a vibrant public meeting place.” For 12 years he and his wife Cecilia organized the Sunday Clayton leagues at Newhall Park, which grew to more than 280 players. They were also instrumental in trying to build seven courts behind Clayton City Hall four years ago, a project that got a lot of community support but that was ultimately derailed by rising costs.

Skip Ipsen has also been a long-time bocce player, but his devotion to the proposed courts goes a bit deeper. “I have always wanted to give something back to this community,” he says. “I love the idea of having something that attracts people to downtown, where people can have fun. Bocce just makes sense.”

Indeed, bocce is not the bastion of old Italian grandpas anymore. In a recent survey in Clayton, residents voted bocce as the No. 1 desired recreational amenity. Nearby cities have already seen the growth in popularity, as the 25 courts in Martinez and the 12 courts in Concord are always full with league play, tournaments and recreational players.

“Bocce is ageless,” Ipsen says. “You can be 8 or 80 and still enjoy the game. It is a very social game where friends and family can have fun in a relaxing, yet competitive atmosphere.”

The construction of the Clayton courts will hinge on the Skipolini’s remodel, which is scheduled for January through March 2014. Skipolini’s would absorb all “soft” costs related to the court design, plans, specifications and the city approval process.

Clayton City Manager Gary Napper said he could not comment on the bocce proposal yet because nothing official has come before the city, but Hartley says he believes the plan should have no trouble adhering to the Town Center Specific Plan. At this point the CBCA must wait until after its August meeting to formalize any plans.

At that meeting, scheduled for Aug. 29 at the Oakhurst Country Club, two-thirds of the members present must approve the proposal to convert to a 501(c)(3), and agree to take on the responsibility of running the courts.

Previous post:

Next post: