Springfield, MO

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City eyes purchase of Cardinals’ nest

$16 million deal includes purchase and renovations

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Pending approval by Springfield City Council, the city plans to buy Hammons Field from the John Q. Hammons Charitable Trust.

City officials made the plans public in a pop-up event Feb. 1. The news conference was announced the day before for fans and members of the media.

Additionally, the city has reached an agreement with property owner Atrium Holding Co. and JD Holdings to purchase two parking lots to the south of the stadium.

The package purchase deal including the stadium and parking lots is worth $12 million, Mayor Ken McClure said. Of that total, the stadium purchase price is $6.5 million and the lots cost $5.5 million.

In news that elicited a loud cheer from fans at the event, the city also has reached an agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals, who own the local franchise, to keep the Double-A ballclub in Springfield until 2038.

The sale would come with a commitment by the city to make $4 million in improvements to the ballpark as required by Major League Baseball.

The team’s current lease is set to expire in 2025. In 2020, the Springfield Cardinals sued the Hammons Trust, claiming the landlord had not made necessary updates to the ballpark and that it had the right to terminate its lease as a result.

In the suit, the Springfield team sought $8.3 million in improvements, including a walkway offering 360-degree stadium access, a bar and a clubhouse, a water play feature, dugout renovations, and lighting and audio upgrades.

The implications of the suit were clear: Without upgrades, there was a chance the team would relocate to another city.

Reaching home
To become a reality, the agreement includes four steps, according to City Manager Jason Gage, who viewed them as four bases on a baseball diamond:

First: The Planning & Zoning Commission must review the plan for its conformance with Forward SGF, the city’s comprehensive plan. Gage said retaining the ballpark is included in the plan.

Second: City Council must vote to approve the agreement. The first reading and public hearing is set for Feb. 6, with a second reading to follow at a special meeting Feb. 14. Council members are independent and can vote as they wish, Gage said, but added, “We put a lot of work toward this, so I’m pretty comfortable.”

Third: The next step is to appear before a judge for approval, as the Hammons Trust and the city are involved in an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding that involves a development agreement with the city.

Home: “Usually, running home isn’t easy, but we’re going to turn third hard,” Gage said. “Home is the closing, and when we close, we will have completed the dream of a home run for the community.”

Hammons Field was opened in 2004 as a home for the Springfield Cardinals and for the Missouri State University Bears.

Opening day for the Cardinals is April 6.

Feathering the nest
The agreement calls for the city to pay $4 million above the $12 million purchase price for improvements to ballpark facilities. According to a city news release, the purchase will be paid for through the city’s general fund and level property tax fund.

McClure said these improvements would enhance both player safety and fan experiences.

The improvements are required by MLB through its professional development league agreement with the Cardinals, which has strict standards for its minor league ballparks.

“Major League Baseball did an audit – they’re doing audits of every single minor league stadium,” Springfield Cardinals General Manager Dan Reiter said.

He explained that under the MLB audit system, in two years, a ballpark can accrue only 10 points, with points being a negative mark.

“Our stadium was at approximately 73, and so that’s where we can say we had failing scores,” Reiter said.

He enumerated some of the problems, like insufficient field lighting, no female locker rooms for home or visiting teams, sub-par training rooms. Additionally, the brick on the building was never sealed, repainting is needed and some seating needs to be replaced.

“We have a lot of catch-up to do because of the situation of the last landlord in the last lease, but we’re excited that there’s a path forward to do that,” Reiter said.

Additionally, many minor league parks are outpacing Hammons Field in terms of amenities, including group areas, children’s play areas and electronic displays, Reiter said.

“Having professional baseball is something we show off,” he said. “When companies are recruiting executives, they try to bring them to Hammons Field. … Hammons Field is quality of place and makes our community better.”

Josh Kinney, a former pitcher for both the Springfield and St. Louis Cardinals who pitched in relief during two games of the 2006 World Series, said things used to be very different at Hammons Field.

“I think I played in every state that has a baseball stadium, and as far as the minor league parks, hands down, this was the best one,” he said. “There was nothing that compared to Hammons Field as far as the quality and experience that you could get as a player.”

What’s in a name?
There is no immediate plan to rename the field, though naming rights could be sold in the future to make improvements to the field, according to the terms in the purchase agreement between the city and the Hammons Trust. The Cardinals, and not the city, will control naming rights, subject to city approval.

One of the speakers during the Feb. 1 announcement was Kelly Polonus, chief communications and marketing officer for Great Southern Bank, one of the founding sponsors of the Cardinals.

“The partnership decision was very easy, as we considered it a core investment then, and we still do today,” she said. “We considered what it meant for downtown revitalization and an ongoing economic boom for our market. Many businesses in our city see that same value proposition as evidenced by the strong corporate sponsorships the Cardinals have fostered over the years.”

Great Southern loves seeing its name on the scoreboard at Hammons Field, she said, and appreciates the clarity of the path forward for Hammons Field.

When asked if Great Southern intended any further contributions to Hammons Field, she said the bank would continue with its current marketing agreement.

Last year, the bank gave $5.5 million to the Missouri State University Foundation to secure the naming rights to JQH Arena, another former Hammons property. It’s now the Great Southern Bank Arena.

Recouping costs
Cora Scott, the city’s director of public information and civic engagement, said there would be significant repercussions if the city lost the franchise.

“Having professional baseball in Springfield has certainly brought vibrancy and revitalized our downtown core,” she said. “We can build on that for the future, attracting new business.”

Scott did not have estimates on the economic impact of Hammons Field to Springfield; nor did the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The lease agreement calls for the Cardinals to pay the city an annual rental fee of $650,000, to increase by 3% annually. Per the lease agreement, the first $300,000 of the annual fee will pay any expenses related to operating costs of the ballpark. The Cardinals will be responsible for any expenses over $300,000. Any surplus each year will be deposited into a capital fund with the other $350,000 of the annual rental fee, and this fund will be used to make capital repairs and improvements to the ballpark.

Reiter said the lease agreement with the city provides a 15-year path for improvements.

When asked when the city expects to recoup the costs of its $16 million investment, Scott said the city’s focus was on keeping the stadium in good condition.

“The details of the agreement indicate that rental and other revenues will go back into the operational and capital needs of the stadium, so sustainability is the major focus,” she said.

That hits the spot
The city plans to buy the two parking lots south of the stadium, at 946 E. Trafficway and 234 N. John Q. Hammons Parkway, at a cost of $5.5 million. The parking lots are owned by Atrium Holding Co. and JD Holdings under the name 946 E. Trafficway LLC, according to Greene County assessor records.

Starting in the 2021 season, Atrium began charging $20 for parking during Cardinals home games. Parking originally cost $7 and was boosted to $15 by Atrium prior to 2021.

“The Springfield Cardinals will manage the parking lots for the city and have committed to keeping the costs affordable for fans,” said Scott, adding a price for the season has not been set.

At the time Atrium raised its prices, the Cardinals issued a statement saying they had been led to believe prices would stay at $15 – an amount the team management considered “still high.”

“The Cardinals feel the actions by Atrium Hospitality and JD Holdings to further increase rates to $20 are intentional, purposeful and hurtful to fans, once again waiting until right before the home opener to communicate this outrageous price,” the April 30, 2021, statement said.

At the recent news conference, Reiter was asked if the fan experience would change under new ownership.

“Well, there’s cheaper parking, first of all – we’ll just start there,” Reiter said.

He added that the organization had done everything it could to be creative.

“We have had a mantra of maximizing our controllables,” he said. “We have done the best we could for five years to enhance the fan experience, and we’ve done it without any sort of capital improvement. The new lease is providing a path with those capital improvements to start making that fan experience better, to start having better group areas. There’s renovations that we want to make that’s about experience.”


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