Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Leominster baseball proposal stumbles forward

The Telegram and Gazette reports that the city is toddling along with it's proposal to build a minor league ball field on the site of the old landfill:

LEOMINSTER-- Armed with conceptual renderings that show a 4,000-seat stadium flanked by a restaurant and a 6,000-square-foot hotel and conference center, city officials are readying a marketing effort to secure public financing for the $16 million project proposed for the capped landfill off Mechanic Street.

Assistant Planning Director Andrew Taylor and Purchasing Agent Gregory C. Chapdelaine have been working on the project since 2003, when the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball first expressed interest in putting a franchise in the city. League founder and CEO Frank Boulton said in May that the market could support another minor league team if the city could develop a financing package for the stadium.

Mr. Taylor and Mr. Chapdelaine yesterday said they were hopeful the new renderings will show the state the promise of the site near Route 2 and Interstate 190.
A couple of things...First, I'm assuming that the "6,000-square foot hotel" is a typo, unless the proposal is for the Mudville Bed and Breakfast. There are homes in Leominster with over 6,000 square feet.

Second, I know the state is run by some pretty simple folks, but I wouldn't think this "conceptual rendering" would turn too many heads. It looks like someone cut-and-paste a PrintShop ballfield onto a Google map. I think there are versions of "Sim City" that produce more attractive ballfields than rendered here.

The site would also be attractive if the city sought to use the stadium for non-league events, such as Little League tournaments.

"It's one-stop shopping," Mr. Taylor said, explaining that a tournament organizer would likely be attracted to the possibility of staging an event on the same campus as the accommodations for guests. "Everything you need is right there for you. You have everything as soon as you turn off the highway."

Mr. Mazzarella said he was confident in the plans for the complex, even if they evolve over time to incorporate other athletic uses. He noted the professional soccer club the New England Revolution is looking for a new home.

Sigh. Let's get one thing out of the way right now: there will never be a Little League tournament here. A little league field is only 2/3 the size of a regulation field, and Little league organizers aren't going to set up bases on a makeshift diamond just to play in Leominster. There are dozens of very good Little League fields throughout Central Mass. and statewide, and those fields will continue to host Little League events. A MIAA tournament? maybe. Babe Ruth or American Legion? A possibility. Little League? Never.

(And yes, I know that's a little thing, but if our city leaders are ignorant of what groups may be interested in using a stadium they want to build, I wonder what other elements of the project they are missing.)

And Mayor Mazzarella is on the moon if he thinks the New England Revolution would (A) build a MLS-level stadium in Leominster or (B) would share such a stadium with an Atlantic League baseball team.

An MLS stadium would seat around 25,000. Does he think we have the infrastructure at that site to support a stadium of that size? Does he think 20,000 people would travel to Leominster twice a week to see the Revolution play?

Further, the MLS team in Washington DC is in a bitter dispute with the Washington Nationals over the wear and tear on their multi-use stadium. Does he think the Revs would be A-OK with sharing a field with a minor-league baseball team and all of his mythical little leaguers?

(As an aside, I almost laughed out loud at the Mayor's suggestion, both because it's laughable on it's face, and because two months ago I facetiously suggested he steal the idea of building a soccer stadium from Jason at Save Fitchburg.)

I'm skeptical of the plan. As I wrote in May:

The city needs to be 100% sure that a team will be successful before it helps to build a ballpark. Unlike an indoor arena like the Tsongas Arena in Lowell or the Verizon Center in Manchester which can be used to host hockey, basketball, tennis, boxing, curling, and other concerts and civic events year 'round, a ballpark is what it is. Other than the occasional concert while the home team is on the road, or perhaps hosting a baseball event like an MIAA state championship, when a ballpark is empty, there isn't much use for it. The worst thing that could happen would be to build a ballpark and then have it sit empty ten years down the road because an independent team or league has folded.

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