Group to begin looking at how to bring minor league baseball to town

Group to begin looking at how to bring minor league baseball to town

CHAMPAIGN — It's January, but baseball season starts next week for Tony Johnston and his exploratory committee.

Johnston and the group of business people and baseball experts on Jan. 30 will begin working through the details of Mayor Don Gerard's hope to build a minor league baseball stadium in Champaign. In a year or two, he hopes to have a business plan to present to the city.

"The idea is to put this team together, an exploratory committee together, to come up with a scope and, for lack of a better term, a best practice for the city on what we think can be successful in a town of Champaign's size," Johnston said on Monday.

Gerard's desire to build a baseball stadium in Champaign dates back to his spring 2011 campaign for mayor. He believes a minor league baseball team would bring jobs to Champaign and inject dollars from other East Central Illinois communities into the local economy.

Gerard put Johnston in the game to lead the exploratory effort — he is a vice president of Software Solutions in Shelbyville and has coached Gerard's son in Little League.

Other baseball teams have tried and failed to call themselves Champaign's hometown club, but the exploratory committee will be operating under a new premise, Johnston said. Teams in the past have played at Illinois Field, a 3,000-seat stadium designed for the college team.

Whether it has been a factor in other teams' demises has been debated, but alcohol is not sold at the University of Illinois-owned baseball stadium.

Gerard's "vision was a little bit different than some of the other attempts that have been made in the past," Johnston said. The new exploratory committee will consider "the idea that if you have a good facility, you have a better chance of getting a team."

That means the committee will look at other towns with successful minor league teams and examine why they have lasted.

Among a multitude of details, the committee would have to decide on where to locate the stadium, how many seats it needs, how many "skyboxes" it needs, whether it needs restaurants or a strip mall and how the stadium could be used during the offseason. The list goes on.

"I think what we would come back with is a business plan for the facility involving the baseball team as the primary tenant of the facility," Johnston said.

Of course, building a stadium is not free. Gerard has spoken of using city money to make the establishment of a minor league team more affordable for a private business and possibly even retain public ownership of the stadium itself after it is built.

Those are more of the details the committee will need to work through.

The meetings of the exploratory committee are not intended to be public, Johnston said, and the committee will disband after a year or two once it has a proposal for the city. At that point, the idea will be put in the hands of the public.

And Johnston hopes the committee can put together that proposal sooner rather than later.

"I would hope it would be more on the year side than the two-year side," Johnston said.

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Smitto wrote on January 24, 2012 at 9:01 am

I think this is a great idea that could bring in a number of jobs, as well as the potential for good entertainment/recreational activities. I have been to a couiple minor league sporting events, and baseball (along with hockey) was definitely up there in entertainment value. Although a much larger city, San Antonio's facility and environment was very welcoming, and made for an entertaining evening at the ballpark. If the funds and mutual interest are there, go for it. I know I would make my way out to the ballpark, especially since the Illini baseball team is finished playing by mid to late spring.

Jsmith68 wrote on January 24, 2012 at 9:01 am

Although it would be great to have a team in town, the mayor should concentrate on keeping his campaign promises not HIS dream.  He back tracked on police and fire service without a blink of the eye.  Perhaps by the time this comes around to fruition he may not be the mayor. 

jdmac44 wrote on January 24, 2012 at 9:01 am

Public money?  Haven't they learned their lesson about the public sector getting into making investments?  They don't seem to be nearly as careful as they would be if they were using their own money.  There are streets that are in dire need of repair.  Take care of your main job, then lets talk about playing Monopoly.

mankind wrote on January 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

This is why I like Gerard. He's got higher hopes for this city than making sure we have enough road salt to last through February. A minor league ball team would be great; a ball park would be even better. It would be something the area could take some pride in.   

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

Urbana wants roundabouts; and Champaign wants a minor league stadium.  Both cities have problems keeping public safety funded.  If Champaign, and Urbana want these whims; they should use their tax monies only.  No county, state, or federal monies should be used.  When you magnify both cities whims, and follies along with all of the other municipalities in the this country; you can see why the deficit keeps growing.   It is ironic that today's news includes Champaign selling millions in bonds; and discussing a minor league baseball stadium.  Will the new stadium have a bar???  Well, that depends on the Champaign Liquor Commissioner/ Mayor.

mankind wrote on January 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm

A minor league ballpark is not a roundabout. It is a business enterprise that -- if tax money is used to get it started -- should pay for itself through increased tax revenues from ticket sales, parking fees, beer sales, etc., not to mention a bump in local hotel and restaurant business. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm

@mankind; Check out the facts.  Look what has happened to communities with minor league teams.  Look at what the taxpayers got for their investment.  If Champaign wants it, it can pay for it with it's own money; not county, state, or federal money.  Champaign is trying to decide what to use the new bond sale for in it's budget.  Put the baseball stadium on the list.  It might be a great idea in the future when the economy is better; but for now, it is just like Urbana's roundabouts.   Wants versus needs.

mankind wrote on January 25, 2012 at 9:01 am

What facts are you referring to? I can list plenty of successful minor league teams. Look up the Low A's. They're full of teams in cities comparable to Champaign-Urbana.

bluegrass wrote on January 24, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Hmmm.  Interesting mankind.  Under your logic the City of Champaign should get into the private sector.  Maybe they should start some City of Champaign bars in downtown Champaign.  These new City of Champaign Bars would also increase parking fees, promote beer sales, etc., right?  Perhaps they should seed their own City of Champaign Hotels.  That, also, would provide a bump in hotel business.  More liberal fodder.  They always believe they can conjure up success in the private sector, even though they haven't had any success there.  But we'll make it work this time!!!  Promise.


read the DI wrote on January 24, 2012 at 11:01 pm

The city already is in the "private sector"--and always has been.

mankind wrote on January 25, 2012 at 9:01 am

Way to set up a straw man and beat it down, bluegrass. I'm not saying the ballpark should be built and run by government employees like it's city hall or something. There are plenty of other less expensive but important ways the city could help bring the idea to life. Partial funding and tax breaks are just a couple. No doubt there has to be someone in the private sector who wants to run the team and make it successful, however.

mankind wrote on January 25, 2012 at 9:01 am


Local Yocal wrote on January 24, 2012 at 10:01 am
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With all due repsect to the idea, for I love baseball, recognize the dozens of jobs this would create yearly; public money would be better spent on low-income housing, after-school programming, substance abuse treatment, and expanding training and salaries of police toward better schools and lower incidents of crime. This was a great idea in 1983. Not now. If it must happen, get private funding and voluntary donations like the DIA does.

read the DI wrote on January 24, 2012 at 11:01 am

Keep in mind this is an exploratory committee. Nothing is committed, promised, advanced or anything else.

They are asking questions. Nothing wrong with that.

readone wrote on January 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm

My suggestions for questions the "exploratory committee" needs to ask:

1 Where is the money coming from?

2. Which local "group" will be the first to tag it with graffitti?

3. How can we keep it safe with the cutbacks to police and fire protection?

Jsmith68 wrote on January 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Let us also not forget that an "Exploratory Committee" took a trip to Europe to check on light rail several years ago.  That got us nothing but a vacation for the council members.