UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP: The city of Springfield finalizes deal to buy Hammons Field, parking lots

Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 8:51 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 28, 2023 at 5:41 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (Edited News Release/KY3) - The city of Springfield became the new owner of Hammons Field, following the final steps that included approval by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Kansas at Kansas City judge and the closing on the property.

The combined $12 million purchase agreement includes the stadium and a parking lot directly across Trafficway, south of the stadium, and the one to the west of the stadium, not currently marked for parking. Unrestricted savings from the general fund and monies earmarked for “economic vitality” from the Level Property Tax Fund are being used to fund the investment. The John Q. Hammons Charitable Trust formerly owned the stadium.

The city is partnering with the Springfield Cardinals to celebrate this milestone by opening the stadium for the community to watch the St. Louis Cardinals home opener on the screen. The Cardinals take on the Toronto Blue Jays at 3:10 p.m. on March 30. Admission to Hammons Field will be free.

“We have the Double-A franchise of the most popular Major League team in the Midwest,” said Springfield Mayor Ken McClure. “They add a vibrancy, excitement, and level of entertainment as well as foster a great degree of community pride. Having a major league club own its minor league affiliate is very rare. We plan to be the home to the Springfield Cardinals for generations to come.”

“The St. Louis Cardinals have long enjoyed a strong relationship with the Springfield community, and we look forward to continuing it for many years to come,” stated Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak. “The Cardinals organization shares a special connection with Springfield and Southwest Missouri, and we cherish the enthusiastic support you have provided our team and players for nearly two decades.”

Hammons Field is also home to the Missouri State University Baseball Bears, who played their first game in 2004 on the opening day of Hammons Field. Hammons Field has hosted five Missouri Valley Conference Tournaments and the 2015 NCAA Division I Regional (won by Missouri State). Missouri State will continue to play its home games at Hammons Field under the provisions of its license.

The lease agreement with the Cardinals has been structured to ensure the stadium is paying for itself and the improvements and maintenance required by Major League Baseball. The team’s rent will be split between operating and capital funds. The Cardinals are incentivized to keep costs low because any revenue left over at the end of the year goes into a fund for capital improvements. The city will create an initial $4 million capital improvement fund to make immediate Major League Baseball-mandated improvements that address player health, safety, and spectator experience. After that, the agreement is expected to cover operation costs, future improvements, and maintenance.

“The underbelly of the stadium is where a lot of it is,” said Springfield Cardinals General Manager Dan Reiter of the capital improvements required by MLB. “It’s to make sure that our facilities for the players are up to code. Everything on the $4 million capital improvement list we’re hoping to get completed in the next two years. I think one of the first ones that the fans will be able to see will be putting LED lights on the field. We hope to do that before this season is done.”

“On an ongoing basis the lease is set up into operating and capital funds,” McClure explained. “It is designed to be self-perpetuating. As the money comes in from parking, concessions, suites and that type of thing it will go into the capital fund and its purpose will be to take care of stadium improvements and upkeep which will occur every year.”

One of the major points of acrimony during the past several years centered around the parking lot just to the south of the stadium. At one point the holding company in charge of the Hammons Trust raised parking prices from $7 to $20 causing fan outrage that it cost more to park than attend a game. The Springfield Cardinals even filed a lawsuit because of the increase, accusing the holding company of “gouging fans for the price of parking.”

So now that the Cardinals are in charge of the parking lot?

“Ours will be $10 every game,” Reiter said.

Springfield is certainly not the only city to have a landlord-tenant relationship with a minor league baseball team.

“It’s more the rule than the exception that minor league stadiums are owned by the city in which the team plays,” McClure pointed out.

But it is a unique occurrence for the city of Springfield to be involved in such a business venture.

“The closest analogy would be the fairgrounds,” McClure said. “The city does own the land at the fairgrounds but the Ozark Empire Fair Board operates that.”

Making this purchase a reality has been a long and winding road since the death of John Q. Hammons in 2013 started a chain of prolonged legal disputes over his remaining assets which led to bankruptcy filings to prevent takeovers of his properties.

That scenario led to a search for a new owner of Hammons Field and uncertainty about the future of the Springfield Cardinals remaining there.

“I’m glad it is done,” McClure said. “We’ve been working on this for six years through all the bankruptcy proceedings but it’s a great day for the city of Springfield to have this finalized.”

“I am pumped,” Reiter added. “Our former lease just had some items in there that were restricting but now the city wants us to grow. They want us to have fun and hold special events for the entire community. We’re excited for it. It will be a great new chapter in our history.”

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