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New Snappers stadium discussions continue

Discussions regarding a new Beloit Snappers stadium are ongoing, but pressure is mounting for the minor league baseball team. The Midwest League has begun to express urgency for Beloit, as plans to replace Pohlman Field are not where they need to be, according to Midwest League president Dick Nussbaum.

“I think there’s been a lot of good work by the people in Beloit, both by the Snappers people and by the business community, to put together a new stadium plan,” Nussbaum told the Beloit Daily News in late March. “And I don’t want to minimize the progress that was made there. But the issue has been going on for five-plus years. A lot of really good work has been done in the last year, but we’re not there yet.”

In late August of last year, the Snappers signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), a step in the right direction for the franchise that has long been in need of a new facility. The MOU “sets the framework for the sale of the Snappers to a new ownership group and the construction of a new stadium in downtown Beloit with an opening targeted for the 2020 season,” Beloit Professional Baseball Association president Dennis Conerton said of the agreement at the time. A deadline of January 31, 2019 was set for “the execution of legal documents which can then be reviewed and acted upon by the Midwest League and Minor League Baseball, with final review and approval by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.”

This announcement was seen as a step in the right direction for the Snappers, who had been on notice from Minor League Baseball (MiLB) that Pohlman Field– constructed in 1982– was no longer an acceptable long-term home for the team.

When MiLB president Pat O’Conner visited Beloit in spring 2017, he emphasized that the Snappers start construction on a new stadium by 2020, when the new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) will be enforced. While it has yet to be finalized, the PBA is expected to impose stricter facility standard, which O’Conner implied that Pohlman Field would not meet.

Since the MOU in August, new ballpark discussions are ongoing, but have not progressed as quickly as was previously hoped, according to Nussbaum.

“Because of the fact that this has been a long-standing issue with the facility in Beloit, which is not acceptable, we at the league office are under a lot of pressure to solve that problem,” he said. “As a result, there’s more of an urgency at this point than I can describe adequately. It’s my understanding that the board and the business community are still working on a plan that they can sign off on and present to the league.

“Nothing is dead yet. But they are working in a context in which all options are on the table. The league can’t ignore if another option presents itself.”

There remains a funding gap of approximately $3 million between community contributions and the minimum cost of the downtown ballpark project. Included in the contributions from the community is a gift from the late Wisconsin businessman Ken Hendricks, which his wife, the billionaire Diane Hendricks, has left on the table should a ballpark plan eventually go through.

“This is my fifth year as president of the league,” Nussbaum said. “And I have put more effort into keeping this team in Beloit than I have on any other issue that I’ve addressed. My hope is that the team will stay in Beloit. But I need some help. And that’s got to come from the city, the Snappers board, and the business community. I’m not saying there haven’t been good-faith efforts to get it done, but it hasn’t materialized yet.”

When the Snappers were inaugurated in 1982, they were surrounded by MiLB markets similar to Beloit in size. Teams in Waterloo, Iowa; Danville, Ill.; and fellow Wisconsin cities Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids existed at the time, but have since dissolved or moved their franchises elsewhere. The Midwest League has since followed the trend of MiLB as a whole in moving to larger communities.

Beloit was always a smaller market even in its early days, but now faces competitors from much larger markets such as Lansing, Mich. and Dayton, Ohio. The Snappers are consistently in the lower tier of yearly attendance in the Midwest League; Beloit drew an average of 1,025 fans per game in 2018, second-worst in the league only to the Burlington Bees, who averaged 859. The Dayton Dragons led the league with an average attendance of 7,868.

Nussbaum said there is no hard deadline for the Snappers to reach an agreement, but that it is important for them to make headway on a new facility sooner rather than later.

“There’s not a drop-dead date,” Nussbaum said. “There were timetables that were provided to us by the club, and those timetables were not met despite their best efforts. My last conversation with the people in Beloit was that they were still trying to work something out. The door is not closed on that, but it’s really important it gets done soon.

“Two things would help: last year there was an increase in attendance in Beloit, which is a good sign. If the fans would continue that trend, that would be a big help. And second, if people in the business community would take a hard look at it, and be willing to work with others to provide the resources necessary to make a new stadium happen.”

Conerton remains hopeful that an agreement can be reached.

“We are still optimistic and encouraged by the progress that’s been made, especially in the last year,” he told the Beloit Daily News. “I can’t deny that this thing has gone on and on, but it’s also a complicated matter with a lot of moving parts…. But the Midwest League has been very understanding, and they want us to succeed. We’ve had some tremendous support from people in the community that a year ago weren’t involved at all.”

The groundwork for a majority of the deal has already been laid out, according to Conerton.

“Financial commitments have been laid out on the table,” Conerton said. “A substantial amount of work and investment has been put into the design, the funding and the lease agreements. These are detailed things, and we’re to a point where we are pushing for the last five or 10 percent of the funding to push this thing through.”

However, the City of Beloit has made clear that they will be unable to support the club financially. The city does not “have the resources to help us to the extent that we would have liked them to,” Conerton said.

While the Snappers’ board of directors is focusing 90 percent of its attention on building a new stadium in Beloit, they must also direct some attention to potentially relocating the team in the event of a worst-case scenario, according to Conerton.

The Snappers, currently affiliated with MLB’s Oakland Athletics, opened their 38th season on April 4.

“If there’s any message that I want to give the community,” Nussbaum said, “it’s to say that it’s not too late, but time is of the essence.”

Sources: Ballpark Digest, Beloit Daily News

 

This article was written by an employee of the Beloit Snappers.

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