On October 8, 2013, the Biloxi (Mississippi) City Council approved a plan for a new 6,000-seat ballpark near the Gulf coast of Mississippi. The potential ballpark is estimated to cost $36 million to build.
The only holdup: there is no team in Biloxi. But that does not seem to be a setback as an owner of four Minor League franchises, Ken Young, has committed to purchasing an existing Southern League (AA) franchise and relocate it to Biloxi in time for the 2015 season.
The Huntsville Stars, Jackson Generals, and Mobile Bay Bears have been mentioned as possible Southern League franchises to make the move. Only Mobile averaged more than 2,000 spectators during the 2013 season. With weak attendance in small markets, these very well could be three strong candidates for making the move to Biloxi.
In a somewhat surprising announcement, the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Midwest League-AA) franchise is for sale. There are ongoing negotiations for a buyer but there seems to be no indication that the club would be moved. The club drew 3,228 fans per game.
In the past weeks the St. Louis Cardinals have been in discussions to purchase the Memphis Redbirds (Pacific Coast League-AAA). In addition, the city of Memphis would purchase Auto Zone Park, take over operations, and lease the ballpark to the club.
Although there are still a few hurdles to completing the transactions, early reports have the Cardinals paying $300,000 per year in lease payments for 17 years. Memphis was the 14th largest Minor League team in 2013 attendance with 7,223 per game.
With passage of various bills during Tuesday night’s Metro Council meeting, one remaining session on December 10th should set in motion the construction of a new ballpark in Nashville. Sounds owner Frank Ward has committed to the construction plan of not only the stadium but real estate investments in surrounding properties to develop an area that has long been ignored.
Civic groups along nearby Jefferson Street have voiced approval of the project and neighborhood groups in Germantown, Hope Gardens, and Salemtown have joined together to push for what will be ultimately be a resurgence of property values.
The Nashville Sounds will be paying $700,000 in annual rent to the city of Nashville for the use of a new stadium which will hold 10,000 fans. Nashville drew just over 5,000 fans per game during 2013.
Does that kind of rent, and that kind of financial commitment to development, sound like an ownership group that will be taking the first opportunity to sell out and move on at some point, once the ballpark is built?
Frank Ward has given us no reason to doubt that what he says he will do, he will do. Mayor Karl Dean has firmly thrown his support to the building of a new ballpark at the Sulphur Dell site, and the Metro Council has one more opportunity to put its stamp of approval on it before the first shovel hits the ground.
We are almost there.
Note: Attendance stats, franchise and league information from Ballpark Digest (www.ballparkdigest.com) and other sources.