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Barons reach deal to play at new ballpark

Birmingham BaronsThe last piece in a new downtown Birmingham ballpark is in place, as the owners of the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League) confirm they’ve reached initial agreement with the city on a lease, clearing the way for construction to begin.

A letter of intent was signed yesterday.

The participation of the Barons was key: without a lease from the team, construction of the new ballpark in the city’s downtown Railroad Park area would not proceed. A ballpark authority will oversee the ballpark, but the city’s downtown commercial development authority will seek a developer to tackle development in the surrounding area. The city envisions a ballpark surrounded by retail, mixed-use residential and restaurants.

The Barons currently play at Regions Park, and the team must work out a lease to stay there while the ballpark is built. Depending on when construction begins, the ballpark could potentially open in 2012, though this would be an aggressive construction schedule. The Barons’ lease at Regions Park ends at the end of this year, but it gives the Barons a five-year lease option, along with provisions to terminate the lease with early payments. While there’s no doubt suburban Hoover will suffer with the loss of Regions Park, the facility will still be used; it bustles wth the SEC tourney and high-school football.

RELATED STORIES: Birmingham formally approves downtown ballpark; next up, the Barons; Birmingham approves new downtown ballpark, but second vote needed; New Birmingham ballpark could create $3.8 billion in economic activity: study; Birmingham City Council to vote on new ballpark next week; Birmingham City Council: We support ballpark tax, but we want team first; Birmingham OKs initial ballpark funding plan; Birmingham to discuss downtown ballpark Monday; Downtown ballpark study underway in Birmingham; New ballpark pitched for downtown Birmingham

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