Huntsville's financial future with and without baseball - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Huntsville's financial future with and without baseball

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Biloxi city leaders think they hit a home run when the Huntsville Stars announced plans to relocate to the Gulf Coast. We are taking a closer look at what the move means for Huntsville, what kind of money are we losing when the Stars go, and what it'll take to land a new ball club.

No more peanuts, no more Cracker Jacks, and no more America's pastime in Huntsville. The Huntsville Stars are off to Mississippi. Gone are the memories and the economic impact the team generated decade after decade.

"What people don't know is it's expensive to run a minor league baseball team," said Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel. McDaniel owned the Stars from 1994 to 2001. He said the dollars a team puts back into the local economy adds up quickly. And according to Athens State University Economist Dr. Tom Pieplow, McDaniel is right.

"Research will show that the presence of a minor league team indeed has an economic upturn for a community," said Pieplow. Pieplow has studied the sports economic issues over the years. Like any investment, Pieplow said there are risks.

"Whether it be major or minor league teams, a lot of the success depends on the management of the individual teams,” said Pieplow.

We reached out to Huntsville city leaders to find out the financial impact of Joe Davis Stadium. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every $100 spent at the stadium, there's a $151 impact in the community. That includes everything from people eating before and after games to paying for the gas to get there.

We also obtained multiple economic feasibility studies for new ballparks in our region. Biloxi's new downtown baseball stadium economic analysis - that's the same stadium where the Stars will likely play ball - estimates the facility will generate approximately $4 million dollars of tax revenue annually. Read the Biloxi study (PDF)

Columbia, South Carolina's city council also recently conducted a ballpark planning study. That report cites a new $42 million ballpark would create 915 construction jobs, 715 jobs when built, and bring in an estimated $18.5 million in total tax revenue. Read the Columbia study (PDF)

"As the Stars leave, we'll look at other opportunities,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

But what would those new opportunities cost? Baseball experts estimate a new minor league team is in the $20 million range and a new ballpark costs around $40 million.

"There's some ways to pull that number down to a reasonable number, but we're going to have to have someone come in who wants to make a commitment," said Battle.

And the same person who did that in 1994 seems more than willing to do it again.

"I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is," said McDaniel.

But the biggest cost, and some argue benefit, is in the form of private development around a new stadium.

"Almost every single one of these facilities has incorporated in it, either the master plan to develop an entertainment district or it falls into an already existing area that will see a resurgence and remodeling of existing facilities to become a new entertainment district," said David Bower. Bower is with the design and architecture firm Populous. He's helped plan, design and build minor league stadiums for more than a decade.

"The biggest thing that I really hate to see is when we've got a new facility sitting out in the middle of nowhere and you've got a sea of asphalt parking around it," said Bower.

One of Bower's latest projects, ONEOK Field, is a $39.2 million dollar ballpark for the Tulsa Drillers, in Oklahoma. The project has sparked hundreds of millions of dollars in new and proposed projects for construction in the city and near the stadium. Birmingham has seen a similar economic spillover since they opened Regions Field two years ago. In addition to the downtown stadium, Good People Brewery, an apartment complex, has revitalized an area they had very little going for it.

"It can be a catalyst for economic development, it can be,” said Battle. “Do we have the same things that they have? Do we an active downtown? Does it need a ballpark? A lot of questions to be answered."

Before Huntsville can answer any of those questions, they have to first find out where the Stars will play ball next season. The city's contract has the Stars playing in Huntsville through the 2015 season, but the owners want to relocate to Biloxi sooner. Huntsville city leaders had hoped to hear a decision by now. We spoke to Stars owner Ken Young earlier this week. He said that decision might take until January.

Copyright 2014 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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