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In Myrtle Beach, new MiLB specs forcing hard decisions

Myrtle Beach Pelicans logoWith new facility specs imposed by Major League Baseball as part of the MiLB takeover, teams like the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Low-A East) are looking at either spending millions on renovations or new facilities. It’s not a simple decision. Field at Pelicans Ballpark is a decent enough facility, and the Pelicans have a reputation for putting on a good fan experience. But with the MLB unveiling of new facility standards, it was clear that the new MiLB overlords weren’t too interested in the fan experience and instead (and, honestly, logically) focused on the player experience, mandating larger clubhouses, training and kitchen facilities, women’s dressing spaces, upgraded lighting standards and fencing, and more.

There are many ballparks that don’t meet the new facility standards–including some new ballparks debuting this year–so team owners will need to make some tough decisions on whether to spend money on renovations or lobby for new ones.

Those decisions won’t come easy, and part of that is the new licensing system imposed by Major League System. Under the old National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues franchise rules, teams were assured an affiliate and a place in the Minor League Baseball system basically forever, as long as they paid their bills and played by the rules. But the N.A. is no more, and teams aren’t assured a spot in Minor League Baseball past the current 10-year Professional Development License.

Having an open-ended franchise deal meant municipalities and team owners could build a new ballpark and base a budget on 20 or 30 years or revenue, issuing bond over the long haul. But with only 10 years now guaranteed–and the clock is now ticking–municipalities and owners are facing some real economic drawbacks, no matter if the financing is public or private.

That sort of dilemma is being faced by the Myrtle Beach officials who own Field, who are looking at $15 million just to bring the ballpark up to minimum compliance with the new standards:

“Even if we invest $15 million in the current stadium, that only brings it up to the bare minimum for Minor League Baseball standards,” said [Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune]. “And that’s not going to get us through the next 20 years. I believe that looking at an investment like this, we have to look longer term and think more generationally.”

Bethune wouldn’t go as far as fully backing the construction of a new stadium.

“It’s still too early to say we want this versus that right now,” she said, “but I think we need to do those (ideas) due diligence and explore those opportunities and keep these conversations going with developers so that we may find that perfect partner that steps up and says, ’This is where we want the stadium and here’s what we want around it and here’s the contribution that we’re willing to make to make that happen.”

In short: plenty of tough decisions will need to be made about the future of present ballparks and the economic of renovations or new construction. Myrtle Beach is not the only existing MiLB market to have this sort of debate in the near future.

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