Springfield, MO

Log in Subscribe

City’s $16M Decision: Council ponders purchase of Hammons Field and parking lots

City Beat

Posted online

Springfield residents had a chance to weigh in on the city’s proposed purchase of Hammons Field, home of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate, on Feb. 6.

The city had announced five days before that they planned to buy the ballpark and two nearby parking lots for $12 million, plus spend $4 million to meet a Major League Baseball mandate to improve the facility.

There was a comment period in a special Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, which approved the measure, and then a hearing accompanying the first reading of the council bill at the Springfield City Council meeting. The next step is a council vote at a special meeting on Feb. 14.

Five city residents offered impassioned support for the purchase, which would keep the Springfield Cardinals in the city through 2038. Two others spoke of more pressing funding priorities for the city.

Other needs
One opponent of the purchase was Darlene Steele, who currently resides at Safe to Sleep, a shelter for homeless women run by Council of Churches of the Ozarks Inc.

“Let’s be realistic,” Steele said, noting that nearly a quarter of the city’s residents live in poverty and an estimated 2,500 people are homeless. “And we have found money in our general budget to spend on a ballpark.”

Steele asked why private investors are not lining up to buy Hammons Field.

“If it’s that big of a moneymaker – if it’s that important to Springfield – where’s somebody with deep pockets? Why have they not stepped up to do this? Why do we feel it necessary to do this out of general funds that could be used for many other purposes?” she asked.

“Affordable housing is definitely the top of the list.”

Councilperson Craig Hosmer told Steele he agreed with her on the importance of the homelessness issue, but he countered that the Cardinals help to generate tax money through hotels, motels and restaurants.

“Purchasing the stadium I think makes good fiscal sense for the city,” he said. “I think we should do both.”

Hosmer added that council has a habit of coming up with the money when it feels it needs to.

Alice Barber, an organizer of renter support organization Springfield Tenants Unite, also spoke in favor of spending money on housing instead of a stadium purchase.

“The people of Springfield have a lot bigger and more fundamental needs than a baseball field,” she said.

She reminded council that a city-hired consultant told council at a study session last summer that affordable housing access and availability were top priorities in Springfield.

“Now, making those things happen costs money, and the bill that we’re voting on tonight shows me that the city has money. We have $16 million of it,” she said.

How the city spends money reflects its priorities, she said.

“Is Hammons Field really more important than housing and keeping everyone in a safe and accessible place to live?” she said. “Please vote no, and put this money to better use.”

Mayor Ken McClure responded to opponents of the purchase that the city had invested $12 million in federal funding for homeless services and facilities this year through the American Rescue Plan Act and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

General fund expenditure
The $16 million that would be allocated to the ballpark deal comes from the city’s general fund and its level property tax fund, according to the proposal.

The city does not intend to directly recoup the expenditure through its proposed lease agreement. The agreement calls for the Cardinals to pay the city an annual rental fee of $650,000, to increase by 3% annually, but all of that money will be returned directly to the Springfield Cardinals organization, with $300,000 to be deposited annually into a city-owned operating fund to be used by the team and the other $350,000 to be deposited into a city-owned capital fund that will be used to make repairs and improvements to the park. At the end of the 15-year lease, any remaining funds will belong to the city.

The lease agreement does include a provision for the city and the Cardinals to host two co-sponsored events annually and to equally share the profits and losses.

Under the terms of the proposed lease agreement, the Cardinals would operate the newly purchased parking lots, and all revenue from parking would go into the capital fund. The team also would keep all revenue from concessions and advertisements, and a sale of naming rights would also go into the capital fund. Revenue from baseball events of Missouri State University, which shares Hammons Field, would also go into the operating fund after expenses are deducted.

City Manager Jason Gage said the purpose of the purchase is for the city to retain the Cards for the next 15 years, rather than having to recruit a team to replace them.

“The economic vitality justification relates more generally to the direct benefit of payroll, attendees’ investments in tickets, food and beverage, etc., and the indirect benefit of having an entertainment anchor on the east side of downtown, an overall enhanced community livability and reputational benefit of hosting professional sports,” he said via email.

He said for this reason, a formal cost-benefit analysis had not been performed. When queried, officials with the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. and the Cardinals both said they had not conducted an economic impact assessment of the team, either.

“We have believed for nearly two decades that the Springfield Cardinals have demonstrated these benefits and simply wanted to ensure they continue for the next 15 years,” Gage said. 

Business support
Businessperson Joe Everest, owner of Ozark Fence and Supply Co. LLC, which is a sponsor of the Cardinals, said Hammons Field generates happy memories for his family. It also has provided a significant amount of revenue for his business, he said, adding that his company does fencing work for the Cardinals.

“I’ve had friends that have restaurants downtown that say they can tell you when a home baseball game is just based on their receipts that particular evening,” he said. “The Springfield Cardinals is a boon to the downtown businesses as well.”

Also in favor of the ballpark purchase was attorney Jim Meadows, whose office at Kutak Rock LLP overlooks the ballpark.

“The stadium and the Springfield Cardinals have been a real boon to the community, a real driver of economic change and development, and keeping that as an agent of economic growth in our area is definitely necessary,” he said.

He added that the stadium has brought development of apartment buildings and restaurants.

“It has helped our area stay well developed. It also brings life to the entire downtown community,” he said.

The proposed deal includes a $6.5 million price tag for the ballpark, currently owned by the John Q. Hammons Charitable Trust, and a $5.5 million cost for 4.5- and 0.8-acre parking lots, currently owned by Atrium Holding Co. and JD Holdings LLC.

If council approves the purchase, the matter will go before a judge, as the city and the Hammons Trust are currently parties to a bankruptcy dispute regarding the property. At that point, officials say the Cardinals and the city can ink a deal. 


No comments on this story |
Please log in to add your comment
Editors' Pick
Open for Business: Funky Flaura’s Unique Floral Designs

Downtown flower shop Funky Flaura’s Unique Floral Designs LLC opened; Jordan Valley Community Health Center moved in Republic; and The Jackson Grille got its start in Marshfield.

Most Read
Update cookies preferences