The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

January 2, 2014

City seeks input from residents on baseball stadium proposal

— Joplin residents will have an opportunity to comment on a proposal that the city spend $4 million to renovate Joe Becker Stadium for use by an independent baseball team.

A public hearing is scheduled during a meeting of the Joplin City Council at 6 p.m. Monday on the fifth floor of City Hall, 602 S. Main St.

Owners of a franchise in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball have proposed a $9.3 million redevelopment to launch a team in Joplin. The franchise was formerly used to operate the Diablos of El Paso, Texas. That team disbanded at the end of the 2013 season because the city of El Paso is building a new stadium for a Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres to play there.

The City Council last month approved a memorandum of understanding to conduct further negotiations with the owners of the independent league franchise, WLD Suarez Baseball LLC, regarding a team in Joplin.

During a discussion of that agreement, Councilman Mike Woolston asked if city administrators would seek public input on the proposal.

City Manager Mark Rohr on Thursday said: “Council has expressed a desire to gain input on this issue, which I think was based on the magnitude of the city’s investment on the project. We have set aside some time at Monday’s meeting for that discussion to take place.”

The memorandum permits city administrators to pursue discussions with Suarez to nail down the details on a lease of the stadium from May 1 to Sept. 10, starting from Aug. 1, 2014, and continuing through Sept. 10, 2024. The Suarez group would pay $150,000 a year for the lease in quarterly installments of $37,500. The group also would pay the city a third of the stadium expenses, such as utilities.

The Suarez group wants the city to increase stadium seating from 2,000 to up to 4,500, install lights suitable for night games, install new restrooms, and update the concession stand and press box. Those projects would cost an estimated $4 million.

Suarez has offered to build an entry plaza to the stadium and some parking lots, and later add some restaurants and loft apartments at the plaza.

Yet to be decided by the council is how Joplin would pay the $4 million.

Finance Director Leslie Haase previously outlined two options, though the city manager has since said there are a number of other financing tools available to the city, including paying cash for the stadium renovations if the council chose to do so.

One of the options Haase presented calls for the city to use $161,000 from the sale of city-owned land located near the stadium to the Suarez group; $500,000 from an earlier cellphone tax settlement; $500,000 from a $2 million balance in the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau fund; $1 million from the city’s workers’ compensation fund balance of $2.5 million; and to issue $1.9 million in debt.

Under this option, Haase said, the debt payments of $140,585 a year would be paid from rent the city would collect from the team for the use of the stadium. The bonds would be issued for 20 years at 4 percent interest.

Option two would use the $161,000 from the property sale and $339,000 in cellphone funds. The city would issue $3.5 million in debt, relying on a 1-cent increase in the hotel tax to help pay the debt.

The average annual payment on the bonds would cost $266,000. A 1-cent increase in the city’s motel tax would generate $280,000, according to the figures Haase presented. The city’s current motel tax is 4 percent.

Historical note

THE JOPLIN MINERS minor league team played at Joe Becker Stadium until the 1950s.

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