Springfield Cardinals and proposed new landlords hope to expand non-baseball activities at Hammons Field

Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 7:19 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The city of Springfield’s plan to buy Hammons Field must get approval from the planning-and-zoning commission and the city council.

There are other legal hoops to jump through as well before the deal is completed, but the plan calls for the city to pay $ 12 million for the stadium and $4 million for improvements to keep the Springfield Cardinals in town through 2038 and expand the facility’s activities with non-baseball events to create more revenue.

“We want to turn this into a 365-day facility for the community,” said Andrew Buchbinder, the Voice of the Springfield Cardinals as well as the Director of Branding and Communications. “Some of those events that we have dreams of hosting here are concerts, festivals, and other special events. At a certain point, we’d like to renovate the indoor training facility to be more events-based rather than being just a practice and workout facility. We also want to let Little League teams come over and practice and play when the Cardinals and (Missouri State) Bears aren’t playing.”

“We believe that Hammons Field and having professional baseball in Springfield is a real economic driver,” added Cora Scott, the City of Springfield Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement. “If you recall, over 20 years ago, when the citizens really wanted to have a stadium and see professional baseball come here, that really helped revitalize our downtown. If you remember what downtown and Jordan Valley looked like before the stadium and after it was built, there’s been a transformative difference. We want to keep that growth going, and we believe that with the city owning the stadium, we can make it a source of community pride.”

Holding more non-baseball events generates more revenue for local businesses and the city, although the city’s profits will be back in the stadium.

“It’s not really intended for the city to make money,” Scott said of the proposed new venture. “It really is intended to use revenues to sustain the stadium’s operation. So basically, any revenues that outpace expenses will go into both capital and operational funding.”

Initially, the city will pay $16 million to buy and upgrade the stadium, with the funding coming from unrestricted savings from its general fund and money designated for “economic vitality” from its level property tax fund.

As to what all that means?

“The best way to describe it is those funds are coming from what is essentially our savings account,” Scott explained. “It’s savings that the city has accumulated over a couple of years by having revenues outpace expenses. In addition to that, some of the funds come from level property tax. So there is no debt to be incurred and no additional taxation due to this investment which I think is a very good thing.”

Obviously, there will be those who will question why that money couldn’t be used for other more pressing needs like homelessness.

“As everyone knows, the city balances many different needs, and we have been fortunate to have additional investments from the state and federal government following the pandemic that has helped with other needs,” Scott said. “For instance, through various forms of funding, the city is investing over $12 million in addressing homeless shelters and services. So these funds, we feel, are going towards another important need in the community to continue the growth in our downtown as well as keep professional baseball here. Fortunately, this came along at the right time when we had some savings, and we think it’s worth the investment.”

As for the Springfield Cardinals, who are involved in a lawsuit with the stadium’s current landlord, the possibility of the city taking over the stadium is like a new lease on life.

“We have tried to grow in that realm (non-baseball events) in the past couple of years to the extent that we could, given our situation,” Buchbinder said. “We’ve had more movie nights, community events, Track-or-Treat around Halloween, and our Christmas event each year. So for us, this will be the next level of what we’ve been trying to do, and this partnership with the city will open up a ton of opportunities and be great for everybody.”

Because of all the legal battles involving the investment firm that took over John Q. Hammons Trust Fund after his death, there had been concerns that the team might leave town because no money was being spent on keeping Hammons Field up to standards set by minor league baseball’s governing body.

But if this deal goes through, all those problems will be put to rest.

“A great thing about this agreement is that this would resolve all the bankruptcy and lawsuit issues with regard to John Q. Hammons holdings,” Scott said. “This is a win for everybody. It’s hard to think about what would have happened had we lost the Cardinals franchise and the stadium sat empty. But we know for sure it would have had a devastating effect on the downtown area, not just in terms of community pride but in attracting others to be interested in coming to Springfield. What would they think about a town that lost its minor league franchise? We’re going to do just the opposite. We’re going to prove that we can make this even more than a baseball stadium. It’s the ‘people’s stadium,’ as the mayor called it, and we want it to be a community asset.”

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