With two bids pitched for the ballpark’s future and a complicated land lease in play, Mobile, AL officials are still sorting out the future of Hank Aaron Stadium.
First opening in 1997, Hank Aaron Stadium was home to the Mobile BayBears (Class AA; Southern League) through the 2019 season, the franchise’s last in the city before relocating to Madison, AL and becoming the Rocket City Trash Pandas. Mobile officials have received competing bids to address the ballpark’s future: one from a group led by former BayBears executive Ari Rosenbaum that seeks to keep Hank Aaron Stadium operational for high school and college sports and non-sporting events, and a separate proposal from Tim Bennett of Overtime Sports that is centered around placing an independent Atlantic League team in the ballpark by 2021.
Rosenbaum’s proposal is the preferred option of mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration, but it has yet to move forward. One issue Mobile officials must sort out in the process is the land lease for Hank Aaron Stadium, which is technically city owned but sits on private land owned by McGowin Properties. According to a 1996 ground lease between the city and the landowner, McGowin may terminate the lease if the venue ceases to be home for baseball at the Double-A level or higher for two years and force the city to demolish the ballpark at its own expense.
Bennett’s pitch surfaced publicly this week, but Paul Wesch, Stimpson’s chief of staff, has expressed some concerns about his bid. Specifically, he contends that Bennett’s proposal does not meet the criteria set out in the land lease–despite the presence of professional baseball–and believes that the competing bid offers better financial terms. Furthermore, Wesch noted that Hank Aaron Stadium property owner Joe Little has given his verbal support for Rosenabum’s proposal. More from AL.com:
“The Atlantic League is not Double A baseball and it’s not Major League-affiliated,” Wesch said.
Wesch said the city has received a verbal commitment from Little in support of Rosenbaum’s proposal, which would last for at least two years. Also, Rosenbaum’s group would pay the stadium’s utilities.
By contrast, Wesch said, the city would receive no lease payments from Bennett’s group over the next two years. Nor is the group proposing to pay the utility bills.
Bennett declined to talk to AL.com about the financial details of his proposal, but said it would be a longer-term deal than the one being offered by Rosenbaum’s group.
The Rosenbaum-led Mobile Sports and Entertainment Group (MSEG) has proposed taking over the remaining period on the lease with BayBears/Trash Pandas’ ownership, which runs through March 31, 2022. It would pay the same $100,000 annually in rent, while releasing the city from tax-funded improvements or debt payments over the next two years in exchange for the right to seek renovations.
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