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Monday, July 6, 2009

Time for a new Joe?

The Huntsville Stars, the AA minor-league baseball team that has been here since 1985, might be moving to another city in a couple of years because of low attendance, according to the assistant general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, of which the Stars are an affiliate of. Of course, this might just be a hollow threat. But let's say it's not.

The Stars have played in the Joe W. Davis Stadium (known to many locals as "the Joe") since they moved here in the mid-80s from Nashville. According to Wikipedia, it was considered the "crown jewel" of the league when it opened. But today, it's the oldest stadium in the league, and it doesn't include amenities that most modern ballparks have. Plus, its gray, metal and concrete architecture is less than stellar, possibly a result of it being hastily built.

Despite several renovations (the last being in 2007), not much seems to be helping attendance, which is last in the 10-team league. Many cities in this situation have built brand new stadiums to boost attendance and keep the team from going somewhere else. So, is it time for a new Joe?

One possibility is to build the new stadium next to the current Joe. While it would be cheaper to do that (considering the city already owns the land) the current stadium seems out of place, tucked away off the Parkway in a mostly industrial part of town, with little opportunity for spinoff development. If Huntsville really wants to bring some visibility to the team, they'll need to build somewhere else. Might I suggest... downtown?

Coca-Cola Ballpark

Several cities have built new downtown baseball stadiums in the last decade-- Memphis (Autozone Park), Montgomery (Riverwalk Stadium), and Chattanooga (AT&T Field), to name a few. Most of these have been successful in bringing people to the games and to the area surrounding the stadium. The ballparks in Montgomery and Chattanooga are a part of their successful riverfront revitalization projects. Memphis's ballpark anchors (along with the FedEx Forum, home of the NBA Grizzlies) an entertainment district.

So, say we had the $30 million or so to build a new downtown stadium. Where would it be built? One suggestion is the Coca-Cola bottling facility at the corner of Monroe and Clinton (hence the Coca-Cola Ballpark), outlined in white in the aerial image below. It would be an ideal place for a stadium, across the street from the VBC where the other professional minor-league teams in Huntsville play. It's within walking distance to Big Spring Park, the Constellation project, parking, and several open lots that are potential hotel/office/residential development sites. (Image courtesy Sellers Photo)

The city could also partner with developers to create a mixed-use project anchored by the stadium. Following the trend of new ballparks, the new stadium would probably have fewer seats than the Joe does-- about 6-7,000 compared to the current Joe's 10,200. The fewer seats would be closer to the field, allowing for a more "intimate" ballpark experience-- something that's popular in modern baseball stadium design.

Sure, there are probably cheaper places to build a new ballpark in the area. But would building a stadium in the middle of a cotton field in Limestone County be as awesome as a downtown stadium? No, because you are not Kevin Costner, and this is not Field of Dreams. If you build it [there], they will not come.


Anonymous said...

I like the idea... now if you can just get the city on board :).

Steve said...

I've been saying this for years. It makes perfect sense. Travelers could walk over from the nearby hotels to catch a game. My wife and I take weekend trips to Chattanooga, stay downtown, and do this.

Anonymous said...

It would be ridiculous for the city to spend money on a new baseball stadium. Attendance is down b/c people have better things to do with their time than to go watch a sport that is more boring than golf. Interest in baseball has been waning for decades. The sport was only saved by the steroid controversy that has been playing itself out for the last 10 years. I say let them leave.

Anonymous said...

Since the Constellation site would have been excellent, this site is also good, especially since the old government housing to the west will be demolished and the "riverwalk" will be extended along the creek.Tie all this in with the planned greenway and downtown will be transformed, time is wasting Mayor Battle! If they call it a jail then funds would be unlimited.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is anybody who would be against a new ballpark there. If they want to get people downtown, then that is a great way to do it.

Don't put any parking lots right next to the stadium. Make people walk a few blocks past the storefronts of bars and restaurants that would pop up. It could turn into a little Wrigglyville. Even if I didn't go to a game, the atmosphere would be great.

codelemur said...

As neat as this idea is (I'd love to have a real downtown baseball stadium here the way Memphis has theirs), I really think that will improve the attendance situation.

The real problem is cost. For two people to go to the game, it costs almost $50 once tickets, concessions and parking are all factored in. The parking charge is particularly galling and ludicrous as there is nothing in that area to create a demand for parking other than the stadium and parking isn't exactly a limited commodity there. For about that same price, we can go see a movie in the VIP lounge at Monaco and get several beers.

Minor League's strength has always been its approachability. When I was a kid, you could go see the hometown team for a few bucks, bring a picnic lunch with you and eat in the green area along the third-base line (this was back in Knoxville when the team there was still at Bill Meyer). Minor League ball as a whole, and the Stars in particular, have been slowly pricing themselves out of the market over the years, while new entertainment options have appeared and a recession is occurring. Simply put, we have less money and more options.

In this case, "build it and they will come," is not the problem. "Make it affordable and they will come" is better.

Anonymous said...

On a side note the Coca Cola site would also be a great location for a new arena or expanded VBC.
And still may. Should Constellation be scarpped except the hotels and reconfigure for a ballpark/retail/residential? The possibilities are exciting.

Anonymous said...

what is the possiblity that the coca cola site is available for this?
I too agree that the parking $ is a joke. I took my wife and its $8 for general admission and $4 for parking, so just $20 to get us into the game. Not worth it, but I dont want the Stars to leave! A new stadium downtown would be nice. Where the stadium & parking lot is now is a waste of space, right off the parkway that could be better used for something else. Last year it was only $5 for general admission, not sure for the jump in price. I would also go more if there were more weekday day games too, but after $4 parking & $8 ticket, plus a drink and snack, for a AA game = waste of money

Brad said...

Lack of promotion, lack of intimacy/fan experience, and relatively high prices is what's doing them in, not Baseball's declining popularity.

You don't go to the game, just for the game... especially in the minors. You go for a whole experience - the sounds, the smells, the environment... a well designed new stadium in a high profile location with the proper marketing (does anyone even know how the team is doing this year?)could definitely provide the environment.

Besides, you could also use the stadium as a concert venue - and include it in downtown festivals.

The key I think is to make it a very walkable, intimate experience.

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea for baseball in Huntsville. I have been thinking for a while that the city needed to build a new stadium in the downtown area, and this is one of the better locations to do so. Along with the proposed redevelopment at the Searcy Homes site, this would help traffic in downtown Huntsville in the evenings.

I spent some time in Durham, NC a few years ago--another city that built a new baseball stadium downtown for their minor league team (this was also an attempt for the city to capitalize on the success of Bull Durham and move the team from A to AAA ball). One could make a nice evening by going to a nearby restaurant, then to the game, and then stopping across the street for a pint after the game. It has been the same for Montgomery--the Riverwalk Stadium anchors the downtown renovations which, tied into the civic center renovation and the Renaissance Hotel have transformed that into a vibrant part of the city. Having a park downtown allows for other businesses to flourish.

One hope in this design (and perhaps a necessity) is that the Clinton/Monroe intersection would have to be on the centerfield corner of the stadium (if it was the home plate/main entrance, spectators would get a great view of the Parkway/565 interchange--not the most pleasant sight in town).

For parking, you could use some of the decks already present downtown (such as those at the VBC) to cover some of the need, and perhaps a deck tied to a mixed use establishment nearby could fulfill the need.

An idea like this would also require some visionary leadership on the Stars end, which I'm not sure they have at this moment. (Signs don't point that way with the dedication to Joe Davis--which needs replacing, the lack of advertising, the changing of ticket prices and eliminating tiered pricing--if they can't get the small things right...)

James said...

Great comments by all. Many of you mentioned the high cost of parking at the Joe. Special events parking downtown is $5, I think. But it can be argued that the cost of parking downtown is worth it because there are more things to do. At the Joe, you're pretty much stuck unless you drive somewhere.

It should be noted that a new downtown ballpark was one of the ideas brought up at a "brainstorming" meeting in Chattanooga this week to discuss plans for a more vibrant downtown.

Adam said...

great idea of the view of downtown tiger!

Parking downtown...I have been to lots of vipers & havoc games and never once parked in the garage. It is a trap. There is ample meter parking that is free around downtown, if you can walk, and avoid the hassle of the parking garage traffic on monroe.

And the Stars....they do pretty much no advertising and are sad no one comes to the game? They are not on the radio anymore either. It's almost like they aren't even trying to be successful or a part of the community. I have noticed havoc & vipers billboards around downtown some, but never seen any stars advertising.

Anonymous said...

The corner of Holmes and Jefferson might be good also.

What we DON'T need is a new ballpark surrounded by a massive parking lot. It needs to be built to encourage walking though the downtown.

I don't think building it Northwest of the Coke building would encourage much foot traffic.
The combination of Post Office, Coke Bottling and VBC seems very unfriendly to me.

Did the city ever buy the old Hilton? It might fit well there. May have to rework that creek though.

Atrian said...

It costs a lot to get in? Really? Because I've always seen free ticket vouchers everywhere, especially when I was in public school. But they had trouble giving them away because there's nothing in that area. The parking lot is decrepit and filled with holes, and the overall area does not appeal to the youth or young adults. If it were closer to more interesting things, then people would go for the experience. Also, I don't like paying money to park in a parking lot that is just a bunch of gravel and holes.

Anonymous said...

It won't work for one simple reason. A baseball diamond will not fit that lot. A line from home plate though second base, in a professional park, must run north-east. There isn't room.

James said...

If there isn't enough space, Pollard Street can be removed. But remember that we're only talking about a 6-7,000 seat stadium, which would be significantly smaller than the Joe.

Anonymous said...

why not use the site for constellation....nothing has happened there for the last year. Of course it would probably make more money to build an aquarium than a baseball stadium

Anonymous said...

Buying the land and paying for the relocation of the manufacturing operation? $20million minimum.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I agree. I agree. I am so thankful that I live in a town with a professional baseball team. I try to go to the Joe as much as possible, but they definitely need a new park. That location looks ideal.

For Plan B, how about across 565 from the Rocket Center, where the Chrysler plant is? Imagine having some real rockets in the view from the park.

Current ticket prices aren't great. They went up this year from $5 to $8 for general admission. And parking is $4. For a solo baseball fan, that's $12 before you get in the door. More expensive than a movie.

Anonymous said...

Even though downtown would be the best spot if its not feasible why not put it near Bridgestreet. It could be built at the corner of Eagle drive and Voyager Way and connected with more restaurants(sports bar) and shops to Bridgestreet.

James said...

Why should the new baseball park be put in a suburban office park? Borrring. Huntsville shouldn't give up on its real, urban downtown. And it's sad that there are people out there that think we should.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't Coca Cola have something to say about that idea?