ARTIST'S CONCEPTION: A rendering of ballpark/commercial development.
Posted at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20
North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays and Frank Thomas of Stephens Inc. (and on the board of the Arkansas Travelers) made the rounds of newsrooms Wednesday, Oct. 20, with word of a joint plan to develop 22 acres in downtown NLR anchored by a new minor league ballpark.
Half the land is being pitched in by the city. Warren Stephens, who bought half the land recently, is contributing his land in return for Stephens Inc. naming rights on the prospective stadium. The company's skyscraper dominates the skyline across the river. The land lies just east of the Broadway Bridge.
How to pay for it? A study will investigate options. Hays says he hopes other naming rights, advertising and skybox seating will raise a bunch. Won't public money be needed? "I don't know," he told Ark. Blog. But he concedes it likely will be part of the mix. The legislature could be asked for money, for example. We wager a bond issue supported by tax revenue will enter the picture eventually, though that's not a certainty. Might we hear TIF district financing as a possibility? Hays will be touting the revenue-creating properties of condos, offices and a parking deck that are envisioned as the private portion of the development idea.
Lots of money is needed. A 5,000-seat stadium in Midland, Texas, with some hillside seats for picnickers, cost $22 million or so.
Trav GM Bill Valentine is in Italy, but he's said for months that he'd move the club anywhere someone would build a ballpark to big league standards. He threw in with North Little Rock (home of his favorite restaurant, Capeo, on the reviving Main Street strip) after Stephens made the land purchase. It's a better site, Valentine thinks, because of more land for parking.
Timeline: Maybe a 2007 opening. An architect has already been hired. It's a firm that designed the Ballpark at Arlington and the new Comiskey Park in Chicago.
Artist's concepts of the plan are, well, exciting. The LR skyline will be a prominent feature beyond the outfield fence. A picnic area in the outfield has been discussed. Warren Stephens has even kicked around the idea of a sculpture garden of Arkansas baseball immortals around a park-like entry to the field.
Some LR officials aren't happy about losing the Travs and a tenant for quaint, but out-of-date Ray Winder Field. A Zoo expansion on the property is a dream, but money isn't readily available. However, Mayor Jim Dailey and others will likely emphasize that a development in the heart of the city is good for both cities. Plus, there's the factor that Warren Stephens has quietly been amassing land on Little Rock's Main Street for a revitalized living, entertainment and cultural district. There's no benefit in quarreling with North Little Rock's choice for the ballpark. It's in easy walking distance (really, we've done it) of hotels on Markham Street in Little Rock.