COLUMBIA — Members of the American Legion Post 202 turned out to vote 61 to 40 in favor of Columbia Professional Baseball’s plans to build a $5 million minor league baseball stadium and sports complex that would become the new home for the Mid-Missouri Mavericks.
“It’s going to give us the opportunity to serve the community,” Legion Commander Alan Wolfe said after the group’s private meeting.
Plans call for Columbia Professional Baseball to build the stadium, donate it to the city, then lease and maintain it. The stadium also would be available to other teams.
The stadium, pending approval by City Council, will be located on 20 acres of land north of Route WW and east of U.S. 63. The Legion owns three of those acres; it donated the other 17 acres to the city in 2000 in exchange for the extension of city sewer lines to the site.
The Legion retained the right to review any plans the city developed on the donated land.
The sports complex will also include space for community activities for Boy Scouts, car shows and family movie nights, according to a release provided by the Legion.
The plan is presented as a win for all parties involved, Wolfe said.
“With the way it’s negotiated, we give up nothing,” Wolfe said. “In exchange for some consideration from the Mavericks, we will relieve the city of their obligations.”
The consideration from the owners of the Mavericks is substantial. The Mavericks’ owners, brothers Brad and Gary Wendt, offered to spend up to a quarter of a million dollars to fix up the Legion hall on the site, Wolfe said. Gary Wendt is a member of the American Legion.
The Wendts also offered to manage the hall’s rental to other groups, providing a minimum of $50,000 annually. That’s much more revenue than the Legion generates by renting the hall.
The American Legion also would have first priority to use the field when the Mavericks aren’t playing, Wolfe said.
Legion members had debated the merits of the plan for more than a year. Wolfe said that some members wanted the donated land to remain a park and that some members who live in surrounding neighborhoods don’t want it changed into a stadium.
“Change is hard,” he said.
Most of the voters, like Legion Historian and Chaplain Carol Thompson, accepted the change as an opportunity to improve the community.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the American Legion to provide service to the community,” she said, adding that it would also provide an opportunity for the members to play baseball on a real field.
But retired Lt. Col. William Wickes voted against the proposition, relying on the idiom, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The proposition presented “too many unknowns,” he said. He also worries about how successful the sports complex would be.
“The Mavericks have not been a successful ball team,” he said.
The next step for the Wendt brothers is to iron out and finalize plans for the stadium. The plan will then need to be approved by the City Council.
The Mid-Missouri Mavericks played in the Frontier League at MU’s Taylor Stadium until 2005, finishing their last season at 31-63 and with uninspiring attendance. The Wendts have said they hope to have the new stadium finished and the team competing again by 2009.
The owners of the Mavericks could not be reached for comment.