By John Hughes and Tao Woolfe
East Boynton Beach Little League has filed a lawsuit against the city of Boynton Beach alleging that a proposed renovation of Little League Park would interfere with league activities and disrupt the 2024 baseball season, which is already underway.
“Boynton Beach (City) should be enjoined from its planned shutdown of the available fields during this 2024 season which EBBLL youth players need in order for the program to successfully operate,” says the lawsuit filed Jan. 18 in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
Further, the league says it would suffer “irreparable harm” if the city goes through with its plans to partner with two sports-development organizations —Athletic Angels Foundation and Primetime Sports Group.
The plan of Primetime and Athletic Angels has been to turn Little League Park into a state-of-the-art sports complex, complete with indoor training facilities, artificial turf, accommodations for baseball players with disabilities and a make-over of concession areas and bathrooms.
“It’s going to make Boynton Beach the epicenter of youth and youth sports,” City Manager Daniel Dugger said last winter.
This winter, though, the park has become a point of contention in the baseball community.
East Boynton Beach Little League alleges that the city’s agreement with Athletic Angels and Primetime would give those businesses undue control of Little League Park, where Little League baseball in Boynton Beach was first played in 1957. It was home to the 2003 United States National Little League champions.
“We appreciate the devotion that East Boynton Beach Little League has to its players and families, and as a city, we are as dedicated to maintaining and improving the park for our residents,” Dugger said in a written statement. “It’s unfortunate that there is pending litigation involved that prevents us from commenting in further detail.”
Boynton Beach Recreation and Parks Director Kacy Young said city agreements with Athletic Angels and Primetime Sports “are continuing to move forward as planned.”
Permits submitted by Athletic Angels have been approved and renovation is “scheduled to start (early February), maybe sooner,” Young said in an email.
The city is reviewing Primetime plans for the indoor facility, which the City Commission would have to approve, Young said.
The league alleges that the city did not give it a chance to “advise … on the grave impact that shutting down Field 1 during the EBBLL’s entire program would have on the program.”
Field access is not the league’s only complaint.
The suit also accuses Primetime President Phil Terrano of “terrorizing the EBBLL community” as disputes between Terrano and league members erupted after the city granted Primetime Sports a comprehensive agreement for a ground lease and training facility in November 2022.
Project plans were amended when a similar contract was issued to Athletic Angels in April 2023, putting the current season in jeopardy of being disrupted by the renovations, the lawsuit alleges.
This lawsuit is not the first time bad blood between the league and the developer has sparked litigation.
Terrano sued members of the league in August for slander and libel relating to comments some members made on social media after his plans became known, including several that called him a “criminal.”
Then, last October, according to the latest lawsuit, the EBBLL board of directors met to “terminate Philip Terrano’s involvement with EBBLL and his ability to attend EBBLL events.”
Last December, Gavin C. McLean, an attorney representing the league, met with the Boynton Beach city attorney to ask the city to rein in Terrano.
The city, though, said that regardless of Terrano’s standing with the league, he, like any other citizen, has a right to be in public spaces, which would include the park’s parking lot and common areas.
Little League Baseball has a zero-tolerance policy for the kind of behavior EBBLL says Terrano is exhibiting. According to McLean, EBBLL fears losing its Little League charter if such behavior continues.
In his own lawsuit, Terrano alleges that he has been the victim of an assault on his reputation at the hands of EBBLL. His determination in fulfilling this project, he says, has always been inspired by his own life-shaping experiences gained when he played on the very fields from which he is now accused of wrongdoing.
He says that he doesn’t see any hope that he and league members will get along in the future, “not after what they have done to my reputation.”
Despite the major league distance between the opposing parties and personalities, they cite the same mantra about what drives their actions: concern for the youngsters in the program.
Terrano said he is disheartened that so much ill will has been generated by an organization that is supposed to be focused on youth athletics.
“This is hurting the kids and that’s not right,” he said.
On the other side, league attorney McLean said: “What I don’t want to get lost here is that the main focus should be on the kids. We’re talking kids here. This isn’t the place for this.”
Another point of contention about the ball fields: At City Commission meetings over the last several months, residents have said that the land beneath Little League Park should be repurposed as city cemetery space.
For at least the past 20 years, residents who have family members buried in Boynton Beach Memorial Park cemetery — which is adjacent to the baseball fields — have lobbied the commission to drop plans for developing the ballfields. They also want the ballpark to give way to an expansion of the city’s burial ground.