Fairground stadium in doubt

County commissioners are hesitant to let the Mavericks build on fairgrounds land.
Sunday, November 20, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:36 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boone County commissioners say they doubt whether a new ballpark for the Mid-Missouri Mavericks would be right for the county-owned fairgrounds.

“There’s some real hurdles that I don’t know if it’s going to work out,” Boone County Presiding Commissioner Keith Schnarre said. “They’re wanting some commercial ground out there, and I’m having a real problem with that. Also, just some problems with financing.”

Schnarre said while the county is looking for commercial activity to brighten the fairgrounds’ financial future, the real question is whether it is ready for this type of commercial activity.

“We’re also concerned about turning (the land) over to outsiders,” Schnarre said. “We want to keep tight control over it.”

Schnarre said the fairgrounds’ future is also clouded by the unanswered question of who will manage the property. The Boone County Agricultural and Mechanical Society, better known as the fair board, told commissioners this past summer it wants to drop responsibility for operating the grounds year-round.

That situation led to talks between the commissioners and Mavericks President Gary Wendt about building a minor league ballpark at the fairgrounds. Commissioners toured Frontier League ballparks in O’Fallon and Sauget, Ill., in October to get an idea of what Wendt wants to build here.

Wendt has made no formal proposal, but Schnarre has said he would like to eventually see something in writing.

Commissioners said they also plan to meet with a bond council to discuss any risks from and legalities surrounding the construction of a ballpark on the fairgrounds.

Wendt said he has heard the commissioners’ fears. “I respect the opinions of the commissioners, but I disagree with it.”

The Mavericks have played three seasons under a five-year lease with MU. The team, which is now taking a season off, played under a $19,000 contract with MU and shared a portion of the concession sales in order to use MU’s Taylor Stadium. The team finished last in the Frontier League in 2005. Wendt said a new stadium could make the difference.

“The facility itself is the key issue,” Wendt said. “The problem with (Taylor Stadium) is that they don’t allow for a fan-friendly stadium. There is limited parking, and fans have to walk up and down hills.”

Wendt said keeping the Mavericks in Columbia is his No. 1 priority, but he needs a new park.

“We believe that to be a long-term success, we need a modern ballpark,” he said. “Hopefully, ... by the end of this, we’ll be playing in Columbia for the 2007 season.”

Wendt said a fairgrounds stadium would cost about $5 million. The public, he said, would not pay to build it. Rather, Wendt’s Missouri Sports Equities would build it and then make it available for rent when the Mavericks aren’t using it.

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