City Commissioners have balked at the option of forking over nearly $1 million for major repairs required at Cardinal Park to bring the facility up to Minor League Baseball standards.
That doesn’t mean the Johnson City Cardinals are moving. But at this stage, there are no specific answers.
City Manager Pete Peterson and Mayor Jeff Banyas have suggested a logical place for the Appalachian League team’s home games would be at East Tennessee State University’s new stadium under construction off North State of Franklin Road.
“That’s not a viable option,” said Mark Fox, Johnson City Sports Foundation president. “That stadium will be significantly below Minor League standards, and we’ve not had any direct contact with ETSU about that possibility.”
ETSU Athletic Director Dave Mullins was not available for comment. However, the subject of the Cardinals playing at the university’s stadium has been broached. At this point the talks between ETSU and the city have been very informal, but millions of dollars would be needed in the coming years to bring the stadium up to Minor League standards, said Michael White, ETSU’s associate athletic director for communications.
The Cardinals are owned by the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, are managed by the Johnson City Sports Foundation and the facility is maintained by the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department.
“It’s the city’s responsibility to maintain the park to minor league standards, and frankly, that hasn’t happened,” Fox said. “When we entered into a new agreement with the city in 2004, that was clear. I think the foundation has proven that it can operate the team with a positive cash flow. The St. Louis Cardinals have held up their end and we’ve given them back-to-back championships. There are all kinds of constituencies out there, and Mr. Peterson and the City Commission have to consider them. But there comes a day.”
There is no disagreement between all parties involved that repairs are desperately needed in order that the Advanced Rookie League team can continue to play at the 55-year-old park. A minor league facility survey by Kansas City, Mo.-based Gould Evans Associates was conducted in July and sent in September to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball’s office in New York.
The results showed the facility was not in compliance with a number of Professional Baseball Agreement standards. The PBA includes contractual obligations between Major League Baseball and minor league general managers, operators and players.
The survey shows Cardinal Park does not have adequate seating capacity, lighting, playing surface quality, security, toilets, concessions and bullpen and dugout amenities. It does not have a public drinking fountain. Neither is the field “without defects or trip hazards that could jeopardize player safety,” according to the survey.
Recommendations for media facilities include separate parking, space for six to 10 print media in the press box, a separate television broadcast booth, two radio broadcast booths and 50 square feet of space for the public address announcer and scoreboard personnel. Cardinal Park offers a 90-square-foot press box, which provides for these functions.
It does not have a first aid station. Plumbing fixtures are undersized. There is no visitor’s training room or pre/post-game waiting area, as is the standard for this league.
“The survey speaks for itself,” said Roger Blakeley, parks and recreation director. “I’d describe the situation as that everything’s in play. The City Commission wants to take a look at everything. I’m planning on them being there next year.”
The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will be recommending to commissioners an increase in what the Johnson City Sports Foundation pays the city on a per-game basis for the Cardinals’ home games to help pay for upkeep.
Currently, the agreement with the city calls for the foundation to pay a facility user fee of $100 per each home game played at Cardinal Park, or $3,400 for all of the Appalachian League team’s 34 home games. The advisory board will be asking for $420 per game, or $14,280 a season.
“The main thing we’re trying to overcome is the disconnect between what the foundation is paying and what it takes to maintain the facility,” said Clem Wilkes, advisory board chairman. “The current fee isn’t adequate for the hours it’s been taking to keep it up. There’s definitely corrections that need to be made. Unfortunately, because of the financial crisis we’ve been asked to cut our budget back by 10 percent the last few years.”
Wilkes said the Parks and Recreation Department needs a long-term plan or vision to guide what’s going to happen to the park. He said the resources needed and communication and cooperation required to pull things together was “like trying to hug Jello.”
“I think it’s going to take more capital and more manpower to bring the facility up to the standard it needs to be at,” he said. “The team is something we need. If we do away with the Johnson City Cardinals — I just don’t want to have to tear down another historical building.”
Despite the needed repairs and recommended changes, the Cardinals have for the past four consecutive years increased the total number of seats sold and the average attendance, which in 2011 were 25,961 and 764, respectively.
Knoxville’s Rentenbach Constructors, the company building the new Memorial Park Community Center, has offered up a $707,000 change order that includes building a new left field fence, the replacement of six light poles, practice netting and new electrical work.
Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl, who labeled the playing field a “major issue,” said it would cost an estimated $25,000 to replace the playing surface. Add to that a proposed $225,500 streetscape upgrade and you see where the roughly $1 million cost begins. That’s without addressing all the recommended fixes.