Advisers to the Joplin City Council recommended Monday night that the council go forward with a proposal to bring a professional baseball team to Joplin.
The El Paso (Texas) Diablos, an independent professional team, have 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 the historic Joe Becker Stadium when Missouri Southern State University builds a stadium for its baseball team and leaves Joe Becker. He 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 to invest about $5 million in construction of an entry plaza and parking for the ballpark.
The council agreed Monday night to entertain a formal agreement to proceed, reserving a decision on how to finance the $4 million investment.
Councilman Mike Woolston questioned whether a baseball team could pull the attendance needed to support the proposal.
Troy Bolander, the city’s planning and development director, pointed to an economic impact study commissioned by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and conducted by a research company, NCDS Inc., of Atlanta, Ga.
That study projected that 140 new jobs would be created by the ballpark and its plaza of retail stores, restaurants, ticket booth and rental apartments. In addition to the incomes from the jobs and the consumer spending the project would create, it could generate about $400,000 in sales taxes and $345,000 in property tax revenue for the city, Bolander said.
There are no guarantees that the proposal would be successful in Joplin, but he said there are a number of examples in other cities.
Bolander said he believes the baseball project would bring a number of benefits to Joplin in addition to direct economic impact.
It could keep baseball fans who normally travel to games in town. “If there is an opportunity to keep people here for entertainment purposes, we also see that as a good thing as well,” he said.
The project presents another way to market Joplin, particularly to other cities in the American Association, he said. The league includes teams in Wichita, Kan., Kansas City, Lincoln, Neb., and Sioux City, Iowa.
It also could be helpful in drawing business and industry here.
“Anymore it’s not how large a financial incentive package you can offer to a company, it’s quality of life issues they are looking at as well,” Bolander said. “Sometimes it keeps you from being scratched off the list” to have an amenity such as a baseball park, he told the council.
Joplin was faced with a decision in 2005, when the city was asked to invest in an arena to bring professional hockey to town. That investment was for a lot more money, $42 million, and Bolander said a hockey team was a shakier proposal. It ultimately was rejected by the council.
“Joplin is much more a baseball town than a hockey town,” Bolander said.
City Manager Mark Rohr said a number of council questions when the proposal was introduced last month centered around the availability of parking near the stadium. He said the Diablos management has agreed to handle parking rather than the city and has looked at buying properties in the area where parking lots could be built. The aim is to create 1,000 parking spaces within a quarter-mile of the stadium, he said. He also said the team would pay a third of the park utilities to make up for the loss of revenue the city has been receiving from the operation of a concession stand.
Cotten told the council that the management group for the team, WLD Suarez Baseball LLC, has experience in the business of baseball and marketing that is relied upon by its league, the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
“We have a talented group of individuals willing to invest in the proposal, pay the city rent and pay one-third of the utility costs. This is a fair and equitable solution” to keeping Joe Becker Stadium productive, Cotten said.
Woolston said the Diablos proposal is based on average attendance of 2,500 people per game. He said he would have to be convinced that large of a crowd could be attracted consistently.
He questioned whether that could be sustained over a period of years.
“We feel pretty confident in going after this market,” said Shawn Suarez, the management’s director of operations.
Team representative Michael Wray said the team has the benefit of the experience of the league in making this type of baseball successful.
The Suarez partners have been in Joplin six times to test interest and work on the deal.
“We wanted to get a pulse of the corporate community support,” Wray said. “We feel very confident the companies in the corporate community of Joplin are going to be supportive of the team. We have had significant interest” with companies calling the team instead of waiting on the team to call.
IF THE PROPOSAL GOES FORWARD, work to prepare the stadium, and to build the plaza and some parking lots would begin next year.