Madison spends its first dollars on a potential new baseball stadium

MADISON, Ala. - Now that BallCorps, LLC owns the Mobile BayBears, Madison is up to bat to claim the team. Monday, the city took its first swing at landing a the team by agreeing to spend just shy of $300,000 on an architectural firm and construction management expertise to work out some key details.

Monday, the Madison City Council approved agreements with Populous Inc. to create a schematic design for a proposed multi-use venue project and a corresponding agreement with Turner Construction Company for construction management.

Mayor Paul Finley said through these services, they will gain useful information including a better idea of costs for the project and what it might take to make baseball happen in Madison.

Gaining Information

Finley said this move, while costing some city dollars, can help the city make an informed decision on whether bringing in a minor league baseball team is the right choice.

Finley said the architectural information the city will pay for can help decide the following:

  • How much would a new stadium cost Madison?
  • What does that money get the city?
  • Is the project worth doing?
  • If so, where does the money come from?

Council member, Teddy Powell, believed they needed to approve the agreements to get that information. Otherwise, he said, "We stop here."

But council member, Gerald Clark, questioned this decision. He said this step feels like putting the cart before the horse, asking instead for an economic study on the project before they start spending money on architectural plans. He also expressed concerns that the stadium can not support itself financially.

But Finley said the project is on a time crunch, and the design needed to happen now.

"We're trying to meet time frames that they [BallCorps] in a lot of instances are bringing to us: 'Hey, we need it to work by this time frame or else we might need to work elsewhere.' We are going to stay in the game, but we don't know what the game truly looks like until we spend this money" said Finley. "I'm proud of council for doing this. Now we've got a lot of hard work to do."

Still, he said that citizens who voiced concerns about bringing a stadium to Madison will not be overlooked, vowing to take that feedback into consideration.

Council president, Tommy Overcash, echoed that this is about "staying in the game." He said they need to try to make the stadium Madison's, so BallCorps doesn't look elsewhere for a place to move the Mobile BayBears.

The Cost of Baseball in Madison

This money is the first sum the city has spent on a possible ballpark.

We asked Finley how much the ballpark would cost. He maintains that they don't have specifics, but they have general numbers from BallCorps that he said "came in a lot higher than we were willing to pay." There is already a design for the ballpark, which was provided by BallCorps. But Mayor Finley believes what the company proposes is too costly and outside of Madison's price range.

We asked him what Madison would be willing to pay.

Finley said $40 million would be a feasible cost for the project, but the city needs better perspective with new, detailed discussions with the architects.

"I think in this case what we need to do now, is understand if we scale that back, we could make this happen. So this investment helps us understand," he said.

We asked Finley how the city would fund a ballpark/multi-use venue. He expressed a wish not to use general fund money. He added there are several options on the table, with more to be identified:

  • The increase in lodging tax (with funding to go toward debt service related to the venue) that passed through council Monday
  • Funds from partners with the venue, including those who sign leases to use the space

"Until we understand what this looks like, we can't figure out what monies would be available to pay debt service to pay for it. So it's a critical step we have taken tonight," he explained.

Finley said they are also looking to make sure the city would benefit from the venue's existence. He knows the numbers need to line up, and agreed with Clark that an economic study needs to be conducted. Some kind of market analysis, he later told WHNT News 19, would help them too, and still wants to make that happen.

The Future of Town Madison

Finley said if the ballpark falls into place, there could be more where that came from.

"There are other pieces that come with Town Madison. When you look at that venue, you recognize that there is a possibility of other destination spots might come with this. It could be one of the most unique destination spots not only in the Southeast, but the United States. So we have a lot of work to do... This is a big project for the city of Madison."

Baseball: still a question mark in Madison

As Madison works to figure out its piece of the puzzle, BallCorps also has work to do. It must identify the city where it wants to move the team. Madison is not a done deal yet.

BallCorps must also earn approval from Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, and the Southern League in order to relocate the team.

Finley said the vote Monday allows Madison to stay in the game, and continue to play for the chance to land the BayBears.