If we had a choice, we’d choose to renovate the existing Ray Winder Field where it sits in War Memorial Park. Despite its defects — including seats that seem to get smaller and harder every year — the old ball yard has a certain charm about it, and the location, in midtown Little Rock on an interstate highway, seems just about perfect to us. And there’s free parking! Where do you get that these days?
But better quarters for the Arkansas Travelers are needed — indeed, insisted upon by major league baseball officials — or Little Rock will be in danger of losing its team. Such a loss would entail a substantial lowering of the area’s quality of life. Attending Traveler games is one of the more enjoyable things to do here.
No range of solutions is offered. The only solid proposal on the table is to build a new stadium on donated land in downtown North Little Rock, just across the Arkansas River from downtown Little Rock. North Little Rock voters are asked to approve a temporary one-cent increase in the city sales tax to pay for construction of the stadium. The tax increase, which would end after two years, would also pay for improvements at the Patrick Hays Senior Citizens Center. The Times recommends a vote for the tax.
Admittedly, the sales tax is a regressive tax, impacting low-income residents more than their high-income neighbors. Unfortunately, it also seems the only kind of tax that can win approval for civic projects like new ballparks. And a two-year tax is less offensive than a permanent tax, especially since we know that a county-wide sales tax increase will eventually be required to pay for expansion of an inadequate county jail. We hope that the mayor of North Little Rock and other promoters of the ballpark tax will be no less supportive of the jail tax when the time comes.
As for the Travelers playing their home games in North Little Rock rather than Little Rock, that’s scant ground for complaint. The team’s name was changed from Little Rock Travelers to Arkansas Travelers years ago, specifically to suggest that the state’s only professional baseball team does not belong to Little Rock alone.
Of more concern is what effect the loss of the Travelers will have on midtown Little Rock. Already, War Memorial Stadium has lost one Razorback game a year, and there’s talk of closing the War Memorial golf course. Little Rock needs to be thinking hard about the neighborhood’s future. A large empty space in the center of town is not an inviting prospect.
But, as we said, unless the Travelers get a better place to play, they’re apt to leave not just War Memorial Park, but Arkansas. Election day is Aug. 9. Early voting is under way.