One sentence stood out inside a 151-page booklet.
“Our proposal is that it is feasible to bring minor league baseball to Terre Haute” read the central passage of a report compiled by a team of Indiana State University students during the past eight months. They presented their findings to some city and university representatives, members of the local community and classmates Thursday afternoon in the ISU Cunningham Memorial Library.
Their conclusion requires some significant support from private and civic sources. But the graduate and undergraduate students from professor Ethan Strigas’ recreation and sports management classes determined that Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley could launch and sustain a professional baseball team.
“If we go forward with this, we see a cooperation between the university, the city and a group of private investors,” Strigas said, as well as surveying the desires of local citizens.
People have talked — mostly at the coffee-shop level — about the return of minor league baseball here ever since the Terre Haute Huts folded on July 4, 1956. The new popularity of television killed a once-vibrant fan base here, just as it did in cities all across the country. But since then, minor league baseball recovered and has surged around the country, with attendance reaching a record 41.3 million fans in 2005.
So Strigas’ students took that idea and researched it. They visited similar towns with minor league teams, including Evansville and Fort Wayne, as well as Peoria and Sauget in Illinois. And they based the scenario of bringing a pro team to Terre Haute on having that club share ISU’s Sycamore Field as their home field.
They found the costs for upgrading that facility, buying a franchise and paying the operating expenses and fees for a team in the independent Frontier League would be $6.35 million for the first year and $1.5 million for each following season. If the team came from the Midwest League — which is comprised of farm clubs affiliated with major league teams — the first-year price tag would jump to $15 million and the annual expenses afterward would be $3.2 million.
Because of the price difference, the ISU task force concluded a Frontier team would be more feasible.
They also presented three funding options — with private ownership, university ownership or city ownership of the team. The scenario with private ownership would call for those investors to buy Sycamore Field and pay for the $4 million in renovations, and lease its stadium use from ISU. The city would pay for infrastructure improvements and redevelopment of the area around the ballpark.
Some cities with minor league teams used sales taxes to help fund startup costs. Strigas used a 1 percent sales tax similar to one in Fort Wayne as an example.
“People don’t like to hear ‘sales taxes,’ but when you present it as for every 100 dollars you spend it costs an extra one dollar, it doesn’t seem so large,” Strigas said.
Finding private investors, though, was crucial in several of the cities they visited. In Peoria, a large local employer — Caterpillar — donated $5.5 million toward construction of a new stadium to keep a Midwest League franchise there, the students reported.
“Their biggest objective is they wanted to keep the quality of life high and be able to bring in the best employees,” said graduate student Anthony Veloso.
Peoria also used its new ballpark as an anchor for a youth-league complex, which allowed them to win a bid for a usually well-attended national softball tournament in the future. Allowing youth leagues to use an upgraded Sycamore Field could add to its appeal, the study concluded.
Though not making any commitment to a certain level of city involvement, Mayor Kevin Burke’s communications director — Pete Ciancone — listened with interest to the presentation.
“This is exactly the kind of thing the mayor is looking at,” Ciancone said.
While he emphasized the city cannot afford to fund millions of dollars in stadium renovations, upgrades to the infrastructure and neighborhood beautification around the ballpark could be considered.
Pat Goodwin, the city engineer, also was interested by the presentation.
“I think it has tremendous promise,” Goodwin said. “I feel like the large employers of our community would see a major benefit from having a professional sports team here. When people are looking at where to locate, amenities are one of the things they mention first.”
That opportunity, with the average Frontier League ticket price being $6, would be important, said ISU Athletic Director Ron Prettyman.
“I’m personally a big advocate of this,” Prettyman said. “It’s a quality-of-life issue. What a great thing to do on a summer night in Terre Haute.”
But making it happen requires private investors to come forward, and commitments from the city and ISU, he added.
“I think the students hit the nail on the head — it’s going to take a shared cooperation,” Prettyman said, “between the university, the city, private investors and the citizens. But I think we’re ripe for making this happen right now.”
Strigas’ students will continue their research this summer and issue a final feasibility study this fall.
Mark Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-783-8742, Option 6, Ext. 377.
One sentence stood out inside a 151-page booklet.