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Posted January 24, 2012 | 1 Comment
Stadium pitch could mean minor league baseball for city
Proposal for new facility at Jim Barnett Park unveiled
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- A proposed $15 million baseball stadium may not move forward without a minor league team on deck, city officials said Monday.
At the same time, teams usually need a place to play before they relocate, according to interim City Manager Craig Gerhart.
"This is not a build-it-and-they-will-come situation," Gerhart told media at a press conference on the matter. "I would not recommend to council that we move forward to build a stadium until we have an arrangement with a minor league club.
"The problem is I don't know that we could ever get an arrangement with a minor league club unless we're able to deliver a site and a stadium so we gotta start somewhere."
Officials spoke only of a proposal to build a new stadium on land in the northeast area of Jim Barnett Park.
"Cities are in competition for their economic prosperity and, in some degree, their survival," Gerhart said. "We think minor league baseball is a really stellar addition to what Winchester has to offer in that competitive world."
Any questions about whether the city had courted teams such as the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns remained unanswered, with officials citing any such talks as protected under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
"What we're not gonna do this morning is announce any deal with a specific team or name any team or teams that the Economic Development Authority might be in discussion with or be pointing to as they try to do the work from this point forward," Gerhart said. "But we recognize that we are at a point where we're at an important public milestone that occurred this morning."
The Winchester Economic Development Authority at a special meeting Monday morning voted to ask the City Council to convey 12 acres at the far northeast corner of Jim Barnett Park to the agency for future use as a baseball stadium.
Such a stadium would replace Bridgeforth Field and eliminate the need to spend an estimated $5 million on necessary repairs, Gerhart said.
The stadium would seat 4,000 people and provide for 750 parking spaces. Officials also would look for ways to link parking back to the downtown for extra space, according to Jim Deskins, the EDA's director of economic redevelopment.
The Parks and Recreation Department does not allow alcoholic beverages on its sites, including Bridgeforth Field. But with the conveyance of the land for the stadium to the EDA, and then leasing to a minor league team may change that practice if the city no longer owns the property, officials explained.
The minor league team would serve as the stadium's major tenant, but John Handley High School and Shenandoah University would have opportunities to use the facility, Gerhart said.
"Beyond that it's subject to the availability of open fields," Gerhart added. "I think it would be very difficult for the [Winchester] Royals to play at the same stadium that a minor league team is in just because of schedules." The Royals are part of the Valley Baseball League, which plays a summer schedule.
No tax dollars would go to pay for the construction of the facility, at a "ballpark figure" of $15 million, according to Gerhart. The EDA would handle financing of the project. Naming rights and other opportunities would exist.
"It's an exciting opportunity for the authority and the process, as I said, is contingent upon ... getting over a lot of hurdles," Deskins said. "But then if we were able to move forward we would like to do it as quickly as possible and with the idea of having something as early as next year if at all possible."
The EDA director alluded to the city's past efforts to attract Shenandoah University and to keep Valley Health as ways of remaining the economic center of the region. But Winchester needs to continue to "scan the horizon" and project itself into the future as the hub, to attract the 20-somethings and "empty-nesters." Deskins called bringing minor league baseball to Winchester a quality of life investment.
The EDA had contracted with Washington-based consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey to conduct a feasibility study into building a stadium and attracting a minor league team to the city. The firm completed its study in October. Gerhart said if the city is successful in signing a lease with a team to use the stadium, the financial impact may be different than that devised in the study. Much of the end result is contingent upon the final cost of the stadium and terms of a lease, Gerhart explained.
"This is an investment in more than just bringing just a single team to play 70 games and that's the end of the picture," Gerhart said.