University of Illinois officials are debating the merits of a renovated Illinois Field, but city officials say their pursuit of a Low Class A Midwest League team won’t allow any cooperation on a new facility.
Illinois Field, the home of the Illini baseball team, has been surpassed on the facilities front by other Big Ten schools: both Penn State and Nebraska play in first-class college ballparks shared by pro teams, and new/renovated ballparks at Ohio State and the University of Michigan, plus a planned new ballpark at the University of Minnesota, puts Illinois at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting and player retention.
So an extreme renovation of Illinois Field is envisioned by coach Dan Hartleb, something on the basic side: 2,500 seats (the minimum needed to bid for a NCAA tourney series), suites, covered grandstand, new concessions, and more. Whether or not the project happens depends on how well Harleb and UI athletic director Mike Thomas can raise money; it’s pretty clear a renovated facility wouldn’t generate enough revenue to justify the expense.
Especially when Champaign officials aren’t interested in a joint facility. If the city was envisioning an independent Frontier League team moving into town, a basic university ballpark might work. But with Champaign officials continuing to work on a plan for a Midwest League ballpark — one surely requiring at least 4,000 seats, suites, amenities like berm seating and picnic areas, and pro-level clubhouses and workout facilities — there doesn’t seem to be much room for the two sides to collaborate.
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