With the blockbuster announcement by the Elmore Sports Group this week that three MiLB teams will be on the move for 2019, several leagues are planning their future configurations. We continue with the Texas League and the impact of the moves in Amarillo and Wichita.
For Amarillo, the announcement that the Double-A franchise now playing as the San Antonio Missions is moving there in 2019 is the culmination of years of work. City officials decided early on to invest in downtown Amarillo and make a new mixed-use event center (or, in Amarillo parlance, an MPEV, focusing on baseball and soccer) a centerpiece of that development.
And now we have a final ballpark plan for downtown Amarillo. The budget is $45.5 million ($40 million for the ballpark, $5.5 million for improvements in surrounding area), funded by a city hotel tax. It will be located on nine acres north of S. 7th Avenue to S. 8th Avenue, and from S. Buchanan Street to S. Johnson Street. Construction will begin in December, and it’s expected to take 14 months to construct. That means the ballpark should be done in plenty of time for an April 2019 opening day.
Reps from Elmore Sports Group are expected to sign a Letter of Intent on Monday. From Amarillo.com:
Once the LOI is signed, Elmore must cover city expenses up to a certain point if a deal falls through, though City Manager Jared Miller said he was confident that wouldn’t happen.
“Once they’re making a formal announcement like this that affects their teams and their employees’ lives, they’re pretty committed,” he said….
Organizers said Wednesday that Elmore Sports Group is expected to sign a 20 to 30-year lease as early as July 11 that will have the highest rent in the Texas League. More than half of the annual lease amount is currently slated to be set aside for maintenance projects such as replacing the infield, updating the scoreboard and HVAC upkeep during the life of the structure.
Though Amarillo is entering the circuit, it would appear that things in the Texas League will remain stable. We expected to see news about the sale of a Texas League team in coming weeks, but it won’t affect the league lineup, as the franchise won’t be moved.
So where does that leave Wichita?
We didn’t see Wichita as being a serious contender for the Texas League team, sitting just enough outside the current league footprint to be rejected even though Wichita was formerly part of the Texas League. With Double-A out of reach and no Single-A league within hailing distance, it looks as through Wichita’s path to affiliated ball lies in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Which is not good news for Wichita officials, as it doesn’t appear there’s a PCL team ready to move. Though a sale of one PCL team is in final stages, it’s not a team in a position to be moved. The PCL is remarkably strong right now, with a relatively low number of problem franchises.
There are some alternatives for Wichita apart from an affiliated move. The city has the power to bond for baseball, but not en0ugh for a totally new ballpark — just half the cost of either a new ballpark or renovations to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The goal has been to move from independent baseball’s Wichita Wingnuts to affiliated ball, but independent baseball has proven to be worthy of investment: CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints, has been a hit, and we are sensing a lot of enthusiasm in the industry surrounding a new Rosemont (IL) ballpark opening in 2018. And the National Baseball Congress is still a solid draw. It may be more effective to renovate venerable Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to meet the expectations of today’s entertainment seeker — more group spaces, more social spaces, upgraded concessions. Demanding more of the Wingnuts while investing in Lawrence-Dumont Stadium may end up being the more prudent choice for Wichita officials.
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