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City Beat: Ballpark purchase gets council nod

One City Council member balks at price of parking lots

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A last-minute objection to a Springfield City Council bid to purchase Hammons Field was not enough to stop the momentum.

Council voted 8-0 in favor of buying Hammons Field, home of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals baseball team, and two adjacent parking lots at a special meeting Feb. 14.

Pending approval by a bankruptcy judge, the city of Springfield will be the owner of Hammons Field and will lease it to the Cardinals. As a result, the Major League Baseball St. Louis Cardinals, who own the club, have agreed to keep the team in the Queen City through 2038.

A court date has not yet been set but is hoped for before the opening game of the season, Mayor Ken McClure said in a news conference after the vote.

The $16 million deal comprises $6.5 million for the ballpark, $5.5 million for the two parking lots and $4 million in repairs to the park.

The vote was not unanimous, as Councilmember Craig Hosmer voted “present.” City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader characterized that as a recusal.

Hosmer objected to the price of the parking lots – only $1 million less than the ballpark – and asked for council to vote on the properties separately. That motion did not get a second.

Hosmer called the parking lot purchase a misuse of public funds and said the price is overvalued by $2.5 million.  The 4.5- and 0.8-acre parking lots are owned by Atrium Holding Co. and JD Holdings LLC.

“I think we’re paying twice what the value of the parking lot is,” Hosmer said. “We’ve got limited resources, and we should use those resources appropriately. This is not a good expenditure.”

Hosmer said the $3 million valuation he cited was provided by city staff. Springfield Business Journal could not confirm the figure by press time.

The deal will be paid for by $13.8 million in general revenue funds and $2.2 million in level property tax funds, according to supporting documents.

Hosmer questioned parliamentary procedure, specifically asking whether there was a need for a second on a motion to divide a vote. After a few moments of research, Lewsader determined that Robert’s Rules of Order did require the motion to have a second, as did city code.

In a brief but contentious exchange, Hosmer asked McClure if there had been a conversation among other council members prior to the meeting about whether the question could be divided.

“No, sir, there was not, and that’s an inappropriate question,” McClure said.

During a recess in the meeting, Hosmer told SBJ his intention had been to vote in favor of the ballpark purchase but against the parking lot purchase.

“We’re paying almost twice what that piece of property’s worth,” he said.

The purchase of the parking lots and the stadium had been linked since city leaders announced the plan on Feb. 1.

At the Feb. 6 council meeting, which was when the purchase was formally introduced as a council bill, Lewsader explained that council needed to approve the entire set of agreements, including the purchase of the ballpark, the purchase of the two parking lots, the new lease agreement with the Springfield Cardinals and the $4 million expenditure for initial capital improvements at the stadium. The series of agreements would result in a settlement agreement that would resolve the city’s claims and participation in a bankruptcy case involving the John Q. Hammons Charitable Trust, the owner of the stadium.

“The agreements are all interrelated,” Lewsader said at the time. “They all require that in order to enter into one that the city enter into all of them.”

When asked whether the city was paying more than the assessed value of the parking lots, Gage said council had looked at the purchase as a package deal throughout the consideration process.

“You could separate the values, you can look at them together, it’s however you want to do that,” he said. “And so, we looked at it as a package.”

He added that it was not possible to break up the deal.

During the Feb. 14 special meeting, Councilmember Matthew Simpson praised the purchase in remarks prior to the vote.

“I think that this is a very good day for the city – a historic day for the city,” he said. “We’re making sure that we are keeping Hammons Field as a community asset, and we’re keeping the Cardinals here through 2038.”

He added it is a good use of one-time funding for something that will provide long-term benefit for the city.

City Manager Jason Gage told SBJ the purchase is something the city spent a lot of time working on.

“It’s in the long-term best interest to have the stadium in the hands of the city – like all but I think two of the other Texas League stadiums,” he said.

The Springfield Cardinals are one of 10 teams in Minor League Baseball’s Texas League, established in 1888. In the North Division, which is the five-team division Springfield occupies, municipalities own the Springdale, Arkansas, home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals; the Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of the Drillers; the North Little Rock, Arkansas, home of the Travelers; and the Wichita, Kansas, home of the Wind Surge.

Gage added that minor league clubs usually make enough money to survive and support themselves.

“Generally, in this level of sports, they don’t provide a huge revenue piece to the city,” he said.

The Hammons Charitable Trust is currently working through bankruptcy proceedings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Kansas. A judge must approve the purchase before the city can sign off on the deal.


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