City Manager Bill Watkins said the stadium proposal submitted Monday by the Mid-Missouri Mavericks entails “almost zero risk” for the city.
According to the proposal, the city of Columbia would own the stadium but Mavericks owners Gary and Brad Wendt, through their company Columbia Diamonds Inc., would pay for the construction and maintenance of the new ballpark. Brad Wendt estimated the cost of the entire project, which will include the construction of a parking lot and installation of an artificial turf field, to be around $10 million. And in the event of the team permanently shutting down, the city would only have to pay for the management of the stadium.
“We would own a paid-for stadium,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said. “At the very worst, we’d have to take over the management of the field.”
After receiving the proposal, the next step for the city will be to prepare a report on the proposal to be reviewed at a future City Council meeting. The next meeting will be held Monday and Watkins said the report might be ready for Monday’s meeting.
If the City Council approves the report, it would mean it is allowing the proposal to be reviewed and modified further. An approval, however, would not mean the project itself is approved.
“There are no deadlines,” Hindman said. “If they’re thinking in terms of the 2007 season, construction would have to start soon.”
Brad Wendt said that it is possible for the team to be competing as soon as next season.
“2007 would be the goal,” Wendt said. “We’re optimistic we can make the start of the season.”
Construction of the park would also be a boon to the American Legion program in Columbia. Its current home on the same site, American Legion Park, is out of date and needs to be replaced, Hindman said.
“It would be nice to provide a quality ballpark for American Legion ball in Columbia,” Hindman said. “They’ve been complaining that they’ve had inadequate facilities.”
Five years ago, the American Legion donated the land to the city. Now, the city is working on a deal that would build a new facility there.
“The benefits to the American Legion make this attractive,” Hindman said. “They have a long history in Columbia.”
Rick Kitchen, a member of the American Legion’s baseball committee, said that a new stadium would help draw top competition to Columbia.
“We get calls to play us from all over the Midwest but we aren’t going to have a team drive for an entire weekend to play us in that field,” Kitchen said. Currently, the American Legion plays its home games at Rock Bridge High School. “We’re hopeful that with a new field we can draw some tournaments to Columbia.”
Kitchen also effusively praised the Wendts for their proposed funding of the stadium.
“They are being very generous and accomodating to the community,” Kitchen said. “They want us to be happy.”
Wendt said he’s not funding the stadium just to make a profit in the future.
“This isn’t all about the money,” Wendt said. “It’s about giving back to the community.”
Part of giving back to the community, Wendt said, is providing a festive atmosphere for baseball. Wendt said the Mavericks’ former home, MU’s Taylor Stadium, isn’t fit for minor league baseball.
“It’s about the fan experience,” Wendt said. “Taylor Stadium isn’t conducive to the minor league fan experience.”
In their three-year existence, the Mavericks went 92-186. In 2005, Mid-Missouri finished 31-63, the worst record in the Frontier League.
According to ballparkwatch.com, they also finished second from last in attendance in the Frontier League, averaging 1,013 per game. Out of the 54 independent minor league teams that competed in 2005, Mid-Missouri had the fourth lowest average attendance. In comparison, the Gateway Grizzlies, based in Sauget, Ill., were the highest-drawing Frontier League team last season with an average crowd of 3,619 fans per game.