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Joplin approves American Association ballpark investment

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Joe Becker Stadium

The city of Joplin will spend $4 million on upgrades to Joe Becker Stadium for an independent American Association team, drawing on reserves and issuing $1.8 million in new debt.

WLD Suarez Baseball LLC, which owned the El Paso Diablos (independent; American Association), pitched city officials on a $9.3 million ballpark upgrade that would add new seats, lighting and restrooms to the ballpark, as well as install a new entry plaza and perhaps other development. The Joplin City Council voted last night to move ahead with the plan. The $1.8 million in new debt will be repaid by rent from WLD Suarez: the $150,00 annual rent payment is expected to cover the $140,000 annual debt service.

The bond issue is contingent on WLD Suarez signing a lease and posting a letter of credit. Once these steps are reached, work can begin on the historic ballpark for the 2015 season. From the Joplin Globe:

Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg said, “My major concern is that the Suarez group needs to demonstrate to us that they have the funds to do their part.” He asked that the Suarez partners provide a letter of credit or some other proof that they have the money to cover their share of the investment.

Rohr said city officials are working on that. “That would be pinpointed by the performance agreement” that is to be developed between the city and the Suarez group, he said.

City Attorney Brian Head said he expects to have a detailed lease agreement ready at next Tuesday’s regular meeting for the council to consider. He then will work on a performance agreement that will detail the responsibilities of both the city and the Suarez group, and that should be ready in February, he said. That will include the financing obligations.

There is plenty of history at Joe Becker Stadium: it opened in 1913 and hosted minor league baseball throughout the years; players like Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola and Ken Boyer have graced the field. But it's small -- the official capacity now is 1,070 -- and it's not the same ballpark as the one from 1913, as it's been rebuilt twice due to fires. The Division II Missouri Southern Lions have called it home in recent years, but that program is departing for an on-campus facility.

Image courtesy Missouri Southern.

RELATED STORIES: Joplin to negotiate ballpark lease with Diablos owners; Diablos owners pitch Joplin on ballpark improvements; Diablos close out El Paso tenure; Diablos talking end of Cohen Stadium lease

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