Negotiations to bring a minor league baseball team to the borough are expected to begin in December and Barry Cassidy, spokesman for the Phoenixville Baseball Committee, says the first pitch in a new ballpark could be thrown as soon as 2016.
“I’d say there’s an 85 percent chance we get a baseball team. That’s my gut feeling,” Cassidy told Patch.
The committee—a body comprised of residents and business owners that was assembled by developer Manny DeMutis in February 2011—received a $12,500 grant in May from the Phoenixville Community Health Association to fund a study assessing the feasibility of bringing a ballpark to the former steel mill site.
The study, which will be performed by the Chester County Economic Development Council, will evaluate the comparable minor league baseball stadiums; study Phoenixville’s demographics; prepare pertinent paperwork; analyze construction cost estimates and timelines; determine debt service capabilities; locate potential sources of public funding and grants; and develop a capital stack scenario to finance the project.
The review should be completed by December, at which point the committee expects to begin talking with teams. According to Cassidy, they could target an independent team or a rookie league MLB affiliate. He emphasized that the group is keeping all its options open.
“If anybody owns a baseball team in the US and they want to move it to Phoenixville, we want to talk to them,” he said.
The stadium would be situated on ten acres of the 120 acre former site of the Phoenixville Iron and Steel Company. It would seat 3,500 to 4,000 and, according to Cassidy, come with a price tag in the neighborhood of “$20 to $25 million.”
What’s in it for the borough
The Reading Phillies, a AA affiliate of the five-time defending NL East champs, draw about 450,000 fans a year to their 9,000 seat stadium, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. While Phoenixville’s ballpark would be less than half the size of Reading’s, Cassidy says it would nevertheless be a boon to the borough.
“It would bring more people to town,” Cassidy said. “The spinoff effect of people eating dinner there, stopping for snacks and gas, buying aspirin and coffee. It could be huge.”
The committee also views the venue as a potential hotspot for non-baseball entertainment. Committee member Richard Kardon—the owner of Point Entertainment, which does promotional work for The Colonial Theatre—will advise on the potential of this revenue source.
The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Phillies’ AAA affiliate, hosted as its first major non-sporting event a July 14, 2009 concert headlined by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp. Its 8,100 seat Coca-Cola Park sold out.
So, who's going to pay for it?
While Cassidy declined to offer any financial details—save for an estimate that the park would cost around $20 to $25 million—Lehigh County’s handling of its Coca-Cola Park could offer hints of a financing scheme.
The park, which broke ground in September 2006, opened in March 2008, and cost $50.25 million to build, was entirely publicly funded: 1/3 of the tab was picked up by the Commonwealth and the rest by Lehigh County. The county footed the bill through the issuance of bonds and a hotel tax.
On the revenue side, the Iron Pigs 30-year lease agreement brings the county $1.29 million a year, which covers the debt payments on its bonds. Additionally, Lehigh County came to terms on a ten-year naming rights contract with the local Coca-Cola bottling company a year before the park opened, the dollar amount of which is not available.
When pressed again for financial details, Cassidy offered cryptic optimism.
“We presented how we want to do it to the people who would be responsible for making it happen. And we’ve received a small and a tacit, ‘It’s good.’”
“We’re comfortable that we could finance it.”
The Phoenixville Baseball Committee is comprised of Joe Altomonte, Dave Chawaga, Connor Cummins, Manny DeMutis, Adam Deveney, Dave Gautreau, Fred Hubler, Kevin Johnson, Richard Kardon, Ron Knabb, Jim Kovaleski, Dick Kunsch, Julian McCracken, Dave Moskowitz, Marian Moskowitz, Kevin Negandhi, Jim Northcott, Crysta Peers, Jim Redding, and Steve Welch.