The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 14, 2013

Council set to vote on ballpark plan

JOPLIN, Mo. — A formal vote Monday by the Joplin City Council on an agreement to redevelop Joe Becker Stadium will determine whether the city will go further in negotiations to bring a professional baseball team to the city.

The council last week agreed to have City Attorney Brian Head prepare the memorandum of understanding  with WLD Suarez LLC, owners of the El Paso (Texas) Diablos. That is the document to be considered Monday.

Since then, members of the Southwest Missouri Lodging Association have sent the council a letter questioning the economic viability of the baseball proposal and one of the options for funding the millions of dollars Joplin would spend on stadium work as part of the deal.

Management of the Diablos, an independent professional team, has proposed moving to Joplin because a Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres is moving into El Paso. Chris Cotten, Joplin’s parks and recreation director, has been working for more than two years on a way to sustain historic Joe Becker Stadium when Missouri Southern State University builds a stadium for its baseball team and leaves Joe Becker.

Cotten engaged Diablos management in talks that have resulted in a $9.3 million proposal. Joplin is being asked to provide $4 million in renovations to Joe Becker, and the Diablos ownership has proposed investing about $5 million in construction for an entry plaza and for parking for the ballpark.

Suarez representative Michael Wray told the council last month that Joe Becker needs to be modernized, with new lights that would accommodate night play, new restrooms and other updates.

Shawn Suarez, director of operations, said Friday that an architectural plan for Joe Becker that could provide seating for up to 6,000 people is being considered but is not firm. He said that plan would provide 3,800 to 4,000 fixed seats with room for 2,000 on the stadium berm, which would be general admission. The group is still in discussions on the design plans, though.

Asked about the minimum needed in ticket sales to sustain operations, Suarez said he did not feel it would be appropriate to discuss any bare-minimum numbers.

El Paso officials have not returned calls asking for information about the team’s performance or marketing in that city.

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