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Snappers weigh stadium options as 2020 deadline approaches

Prior to their 2005 season, the Milwaukee Brewers dropped the minor league Beloit Snappers as their Class A affiliate. The Snappers had been affiliated with Milwaukee since the minor league club’s inception in 1982, but the Brewers backed out of Beloit due to concerns that the city was not making sufficient efforts to provide a new stadium.

12 years and two big league affiliates later, the Snappers are finally progressing towards a new stadium to ensure that Minor League Baseball (MiLB) will remain in Beloit beyond 2020.

Towards the end of the 2017 season, the Snappers released a video outlining the potential for a new stadium that would improve their presence and keep the team in Beloit for years to come. Time is not on their side, however; after 2020, Minor League Baseball’s current Professional Baseball Agreement, which states that the 30 teams of Major League Baseball (MLB) will employ at least 160 minor league teams, is due for renewal, after which the Snappers’ current stadium will likely no longer meet MiLB’s standards. If a new stadium is not finished by then, the Snappers could face relocation.

The Snappers, now property of the Oakland Athletics, have played at the same home venue, Pohlman Field, for the entirety of their 35-year history. Significant renovations have been made over the years, but that hasn’t protected the stadium from criticism at the hands of visiting Midwest League teams, and MiLB itself.

Adam Lautenbach/CC

“The pressure has been on from MiLB to get this done or lose the team,” Snappers Vice President Jim Agate said via email. “They have made it very clear that the new league standards that will be imposed in 2020 will disqualify Pohlman Field from meeting the minimum requirements of a facility and that we would not continue to be ‘grandfathered in.’”

Reality set in for the Snappers back in March when MiLB president Pat O’Conner visited Beloit. O’Conner spoke at length with Snappers executives as well as local community and business leaders, emphasizing the urgency for Beloit to pursue a new stadium before the PBA runs out. O’Conner noted that Pohlman Field no longer provides the necessary facilities for players under contract to Major League teams, and even went as far to say that Beloit’s current facilities “are in the bottom 2 or 3 percent” out of MiLB’s 160 teams.

“You do not have to worry about Minor League Baseball coming in and taking your team from you,” O’Conner said at the time. “It’s yours to keep or it’s yours to lose; it’s that simple. I’m not here with threats. I’m here with the stark reality that the game of baseball in the last 25 years has moved beyond Beloit today.”

“Pat has been very clear with us throughout this process. He would love to see MiLB continue in Beloit,” Agate said. “But, for that to happen, we need to get this stadium project going NOW [sic]. Our timeline is very short and we cannot have a wait-and-see attitude.”

This pressure from MiLB has led to perhaps the Snappers’ most aggressive effort for a stadium yet. The pitch video the Snappers produced, entitled “A Case Study for Beloit,” analyzes Beloit through the lens of Midland, Mich., another Midwest League city that was able to attract Minor League baseball 10 years ago after investors built Dow Diamond. The stadium– home to the Great Lakes Loons, the Class A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers– revived Midland’s downtown riverfront scene. The Snappers hope to follow that example and continue the revitalization of Beloit’s own downtown riverfront area, which has improved vastly over the past decade.

“We have not decided on the exact location,” Agate, who is also the head of Beloit’s Stadium Committee, said. “We do know it must be in a downtown location and there are three or four possible sites that we are working on. Our first choice is along the Rock River but it will require relocating a building.”

The video was produced after Beloit baseball and business leaders visited Midland for a tour of the stadium and city in June, when the Loons hosted the 2017 Midwest League All-Star Game. Throughout the video, Loons executives discuss their experience at Dow Diamond and the similarities between Beloit and Midland as cities while examining the potential for a new stadium in Beloit.

“The comparison of the two cities is very interesting,” Agate said. “Both have very similar size populations, similar economics and similar new growth.” Agate noted that Beloit and Midland each possess recently renovated downtowns, a college, a riverfront park and country club with a golf course. One difference is that Midland has one major employer– Dow Chemical, a major sponsor of the Loons after whom their stadium is named– whereas Beloit has several. The Snappers have been in close contact with these businesses throughout their pursuit of a new stadium.  

“We have been working with major businesses in the community,” Agate said. “Unfortunately, there are no public funds that look to be available [towards the stadium] so we need to pursue private funding. We strive to the business leaders the benefits that will be offered from a new stadium: recruitment, retention and quality of life benefits.”

The pitch video was meant to garner the support of those businesses, according to Snappers board member Brian Morello, who is also an economics professor at Beloit College and runs the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship in Liberal Education (CELEB).

“Our target was broad,” Morello said, “and against our many stakeholders who we wanted to get a sense for the parallels between the cities and all the potential for Beloit.”

Once the location is settled upon, the Snappers hope to begin construction of the stadium in late 2018 or early 2019.

“Construction would take 12-16 months from what I have been told,” Agate said, “so we are targeting to open the new stadium by the beginning of the 2020 season in April.”

In the event a stadium cannot be provided by 2020, Beloit will face a tough decision.

“By Board resolution, we have decided that we have three options. First, of course, is to build a new downtown stadium and keep the team here in Beloit,” Agate said. “The second option, if we cannot accomplish the first, is to sell the team and the new ownership will move them to where they choose. Final option, if we do not accomplish options 1 or 2, we will lose the team as MiLB will not renew us.”

While this is arguably the Snappers’ most significant effort to bring a new stadium to Beloit, it is not the first. Not long after the Brewers withdrew their affiliation from Beloit, the Snappers looked towards constructing a stadium similar to that of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Brewers’ current Class A affiliate. A potential scenario involved placing the stadium along Interstate 39/90 in between Beloit and Janesville, which may have attracted a broader Rock County audience. The late Ken Hendricks, a Beloit-based entrepreneur who made the Forbes 400 list prior to his death, pledged $2 million to the project. His wife Diane Hendricks– named the richest self-made woman in the U.S. by Forbes in 2016– left the door open on the offer, but the plan never came to fruition. In early 2015, the Snappers’ board rejected a buyout offer from former Snappers board member and president Brian Christianson, who has pursued a new stadium in Beloit for over a decade.

With little time left before the current PBA expires, this is likely the Snappers’ last chance to follow through on a new stadium. However, following the Midland model appears to be a good route for the Snappers, and Agate and the rest of the Snappers’ board hope that community members and business leaders are willing to contribute to keeping baseball in Beloit for the long term.  

The author of this article has worked for the Beloit Snappers Baseball Club for the past two years.

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