Plans for a new Wichita ballpark for the New Orleans Baby Cakes (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) advanced on Tuesday, when the Wichita City Council approved a memorandum of understanding.
Last week, Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell announced that the Baby Cakes will move into a new ballpark in his city in 2020. Officials are planning to demolish the existing Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to make way for the facility, which is expected to anchor a larger riverfront redevelopment initiative.
More details on the ballpark emerged during Tuesday’s vote. The MOU calls for the city to spend as much as $81 million on the project, including $75 million for the ballpark and $6 million for infrastructure improvements, including a pedestrian bridge that would cross the Arkansas River. The ballpark would be completed by March 15, 2020, while the team commits to a 20-year lease with an initial rent payment of $350,000 annually, before it is adjusted to inflation every five years.
Along with those terms, the MOU outlines other key stipulations. The National Baseball Congress World Series–held annually at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium–would have access to the ballpark, while the city and team would establish an emergency air travel fund. More from the Wichita Eagle:
The ballpark will have 6,500 to 7,000 fixed seats and 15 to 18 luxury suites, plus a seating berm and party space for 3,000 to 3,500 people.
The team has agreed to make the stadium available for a week a year for National Baseball Congress World Series tournament games. The annual amateur tournament draws teams from across the country to Wichita.
The city will have the right to use the stadium 10 days a year for charitable and community events.
An emergency air travel fund of $200,000 will be established by the city and the team to assuage concerns by the team and the Pacific Coast League that Wichita may not have the frequency of air service to ensure the team can make it back and forth to games.
The project would be backed by the Kansas equivalent of tax-increment financing (STAR bond). A final agreement still needs to be reached, but the city is hoping to demolish Lawrence-Dumont Stadium by the end of this year and work toward a 2020 opening for the new ballpark.
A Southern League team is expected to move to New Orleans at the same time that the Pacific Coast League franchise relocates to Wichita. The move of a as-of-yet-unanounced Class AA Southern League team would come under the ownership of the current New Orleans ownership, led by Lou Schwechheimer, allowing the Baby Cakes name to live on.
Wichita has lacked affiliated baseball since the departure of the Wichita Wranglers (Class AA; Texas League) to Northwest Arkansas for the 2008 season. Since then, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium has housed the Wichita Wingnuts (independent; American Association), which were notified by city officials earlier this year that the ballpark would be torn down at the end of this season. The city council on Tuesday agreed to pay $2.2 million to terminate the Wingnuts’ lease. That payment will be made incrementally between now and 2026.
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