After years of working toward an independent team playing out of a new $60-million ballpark in Malden, Mass., developer Alex Bok has shifted his focus toward affiliated baseball, with the blessings of Minor League Baseball.
If you peruse the archives, you’ll be reminded of Bok’s decade-plus quest to bring a ballpark to a brownfield area in downtown Malden, a northern Boston suburb. For virtually all that time he was focused on independent baseball, though he never had an official deal with the Atlantic League for a franchise.
Now, however, Bok has a small window of opportunity to put together a deal to place an affiliated team in Malden, as he has until Jan. 31 to prepare a preliminary plan. That’s a short time to have something in place, to be sure, and there are plenty of moving pieces, including approval from the Boston Red Sox. From Wicked Local:
In a Nov. 15 letter, Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner granted the development team permission to explore bringing a club to Malden, in response to a request made one day prior by Boston Baseball Field of Dreams founder and CEO Alexander Bok. O’Conner gave Bok until Dec. 15 to submit a written summary of his exploration, but Bok requested additional time this week and was granted an extension through Jan. 31.
O’Conner clarified in his letter that permission to explore does not imply approval of moving a team to Malden, which would need to be approved separately.
This will not be an easy process. First, Bok needs to come to a new deal with National Grid to acquire the land, as well as any newly identified adjoining parcels. Second, he needs to finalize a financing deal. Third, he needs to come up with a tenant acceptable to Minor League Baseball, a team’s league and the Boston Red Sox. (Three affiliated leagues operate in this space — the International League, the Eastern League and the NY-Penn League, whose Lowell Spinners franchise is 25 miles or so from Malden.) And he wanted to have this all done by this summer, to begin construction for a 2019 opening. While plenty of work has been done on the project — it was a topic of some discussion at the Winter Meetings — there’s a lot more to be completed in a very short amount of time.
Here’s the letter presented by Malden Mayor Gary Christenson to the Malden City Council:
“Madame President and members of the Council:
“I am here to provide you with an update on the status of the proposed ballpark. After many months of discussion with Minor League Baseball and nearby affiliated teams, the development team led by Alex Bok has secured the right to explore having an affiliated Minor League Baseball team in Malden.
“The benefits of having an affiliated team rather than an Independent league team, which was the original proposal when this process began are many, including that there is a player development contract with a Major League team which supplies its prospects, manager and coaches to the team. Unlike Independent league baseball teams, it is not unusual for many of the players on an affiliated minor league team to later play in the major leagues.
“This has been a highly-complicated process but thanks to the continued hard work and dedication of our United States Senator Ed Markey and State Representative Paul Donato along with their federal and state colleagues and National Grid, the developer can now begin the process of securing a team. Final approvals and reviews by all parties, including myself, the City Council, the Malden Redevelopment Authority, State government, National Grid, investors, banks, Minor League Baseball and other nearby affiliated teams, will, of course, be based on the specifics of the final project proposal.
“It is critically important to note that the rules and regulations of Minor League Baseball prevent at this time any speculation or discussion about details on what team, league, or affiliation could be in Malden but the fact that the go ahead was given by Minor League Baseball is crucial to the project moving forward. These same rules have kept the developer from discussing its efforts publicly over the past few years.
“While securing the go ahead from Minor League Baseball, the development team has also been working with the Boston City Football Club which is a Division 4 soccer team within the United States soccer system on adapting the design of the ballpark to enable a soccer playing field that meets international FIFA standards. As a result, there is now a substantive agreement that the Club will play its 10-14 home games at the ballpark, primarily on Sunday evenings with occasional exhibition games on another night and that the facility will be used for the Club’s youth training programs.
“Financially, both Eastern Bank and East Boston Savings Bank have indicated to the developer their continued strong interest in funding the proposed ballpark. Private investment in the project, through equity and debt, is estimated to be $60M.
“The project will be union-built. With respect to construction, the developer has selected Turner Sports Construction as its proposed contractor. Turner is the leading sports construction company in the United States and has built many of the leading minor league and major league ballparks over the past ten years, including Nationals Park in Washington DC, Yankee Stadium, and Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio.
“In addition, now that the development team has formal written permission from Minor League Baseball that it can move forward with exploring an affiliated team in Malden, the developer has advised me that they will work toward the purchase of the abutting property owners parcels at current market value plus a premium. I expect that process, which I helped facilitate several years ago, will resume within a month.
“For those concerned about the feasibility of the ballpark, I have been told that no affiliated minor league team has failed in the last 30 years and there are few better markets for baseball in America than the Greater Boston area. Minor league baseball will not only offer an affordable family entertainment option but will promote Malden to families and businesses throughout the Commonwealth and bring significant economic benefit to our many restaurants and other local businesses. The placement of a ballpark, year-round restaurant and related meeting facilities is an optimal way of putting this environmentally-sensitive parcel to use for the community’s benefit. It would complement and spur the larger economic development that has been occurring in the downtown area and assist with the revitalization of Malden Square.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t also emphasize the community building opportunity that the ballpark and minor league baseball will bring to Malden. Not only will a ballpark provide an opportunity for baseball fans young and old to enjoy the national pastime but it will also serve as a recreational center and forge closer ties with Malden neighbors. Minor league baseball teams contribute thousands of dollars back to the community and the ballpark will be a site for other events including concerts, movies, graduations, and serve as the future home of the Malden High School Golden Tornadoes Varsity Baseball Team.
“Finally, I know you have numerous questions and the developer has committed to presenting additional details and the remaining open issues to the City Council on Tuesday, February 7th. Once the open items are resolved, the developer’s timeline would be to break ground this summer and open for baseball in 2019.
“Thank you. I will now take any questions you may have. Please understand, my answers must be constrained by the rules and guidelines as set forth by Minor League Baseball so as not to endanger the proposed project.”
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