This year will be a trial, of sorts, for a multi-million dollar baseball stadium in Joplin. Joe Becker stadium has been available to use, ever since the Joplin Blasters baseball team dissolved last year.
Sports fans have been waiting to hear what's next for the stadium. People not interested in sports have been wondering that, too; wanting to know how their tax dollars will be used.
In part one of our special report, we look at the financials of short-term plans.
Baseball hasn't been the same for John Moore since last year.
"The people of Joplin have a bad taste in their mouths now," says Moore.
Moore lives down the street from Joe Becker stadium, the former home of the Joplin Blasters. He says ongoing legal disputes between the team's owners and the City of Joplin have made him apprehensive, but not hopeless about future Joe Becker tenants.
"It may take a couple of years, or so, for people to get the bad taste out of their mouths. We'll just have to see," says Moore.
Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm is also planning for the future.
"I think there's definitely an appetite for baseball in this community," says Anselm.
Anselm says he's not looking too far ahead.
"I think when it comes to talking to other teams about bringing another professional team into Joplin, we need a little bit more lead time than six months between seasons," says Anselm.
Anselm and the City's parks and recreation director, Paul Bloomberg, say Joplin's city council wants to use the upcoming baseball season to research professional baseball team owners and leagues. In the meantime, Bloomberg and Anselm say three baseball teams have signed one-year contracts to use Joe Becker.
"With the tournaments and everything, we plan over 250 games out here. On one field. Which is a lot," says Bloomberg.
Joplin's McAuley and College Heights schools will play at the stadium, along with the Joplin Outlaws, a nonprofessional team of college students. Hundreds of people watched them play last year at Joplin's sports complex.
"We probably averaged three to 400. And then the weekends were a little better," says Mark Rains, president of the Joplin Outlaws.
"They played at Becker one season before it was renovated, and they saw some better numbers, in terms of attendance," says Anselm.
The outlaws will pay the City $5,000 for playing 25 games at Joe Becker. The City will also collect $1 of each ticket purchase, and keep all concession revenues.
The City will also get a total of close to $1,400 from McAuley and College Heights schools (College Heights plays nine games, plus three dates for district play; McAuley plays six games). Concession revenues from both school's games will also go to the City.
The Joplin Sports Authority will pass along to the City $75 for each high school tournament and $200 for each college tournament at the stadium.
There were close to $39,000 in personnel costs at Joe Becker last year. About $16,000 were needed for supplies, and utilities for the stadium cost about $49,000. Based off these numbers, city officials say there's a chance a full baseball season at Joe Becker this year might mean a loss in revenue for the City, leaving taxpayers on deck.
John Moore, though, is willing to help the City through this important year.
I'm definitely going to go. I wouldn't pay you a nickel to see the Blasters," says Moore.
Anselm and Bloomberg hope professional baseball leagues notice this type of commitment, showing not only Joe Becker, but Joplin, is still a place for a professional baseball team.
As mentioned, the Joplin Sports Authority, or JSA, is still working on its schedule for Joe Becker stadium. But outside teams coming to Joplin for JSA tournaments, of course, means more sales and hotel tax revenue.
Should a multi-million dollar baseball stadium include new improvements that may help attract business? That's one question city officials and workers are thinking about, as they try to deal with a more important question: What to do with Joe Becker stadium, in general?
Circuses, heavyweight contests, and rodeos. Those are some events that have taken place at Joe Becker stadium after it was built in 1913. Eventually, the stadium focused on baseball. But now, in a bit of irony, city officials are, once again, thinking about other issues.
Autumn Tate and Tyrell Harbin never paid money to go to Joplin Blasters games, because they could get good seats for games on the front porch of their home, just down the street from Joe Becker.
They've been missing the fans and visitors to their neighborhood.
"There's a lot of nice people who come. A lot of families. They had a little house of bounce over there. The kids had fun," says Harbin.
"That's probably what this area needs," says Tate.
Harbin and Tate say baseball has changed the neighborhood around Joe Becker.
"I think this baseball stadium made people more happy, around here. Whenever the fireworks went off, all of the community would step out of their houses and just watch together," says Tate.
Baseball teams from McAuley and College Heights schools in Joplin have signed one-year contracts to use Joe Becker. The Joplin Outlaws, a nonprofessional team of college students, have also signed a one-year contract for the stadium. The Joplin Sports Authority has booked tournaments with out-of-town teams at Joe Becker.
"We have 250 games here," says Joplin Parks and Recreation Director Paul Bloomberg.
Joe Becker is booked with games from later this month until November. But city officials and workers say it may be time, after this year's packed schedule, to bring more than baseball to Joe Becker.
"We did, obviously, put $5 million into the stadium, to renovate it," says Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm.
Anselm wants to pay down the remaining $1.7 million of debt associated with that renovation as quickly and efficiently as possible.
"If we would be allowed to put turf in this whole stadium, it becomes a multi-use facility," says Bloomberg.
The City has asked for bids to see how much artificial grass at the stadium would cost.
"We can do girls softball on this field. We can put different base dimensions. The mound would be able to come out. In the fall or spring, we could do soccer over here for the kids. So the possibilities are endless," says Bloomberg.
Some taxpayers say enough money has been spend on the stadium.
Joplin resident John Moore says, "Who's going to pay for that turf? The City of Joplin!"
"We've identified some potential savings in the parks sales tax dollars from other projects that we could potentially use to cover the cost of that," says Anselm. "Also, might be able to look at some corporate sponsorships to help pay for it, half half type of deal."
There's also the possibility of outdoor concerts at the stadium.
"I would like to see a couple of concerts," says Bloomberg.
"Bring in some local bands, perhaps, and do something," says Anselm.
"It would have to be in the fall," says Bloomberg.
"Maybe a four-hour jam session," says Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau President Patrick Tuttle.
Tuttle has also been trying to come up with creative uses.
"We've even looked at what type of outdoor conventions could use that (stadium)," says Tuttle.
But there's a worry of ruining the ballpark.
"How to protect the turf. Because with the sprinkler system built into there, and a number of baseball games going on, the last thing we want to do is create more work for somebody," says Tuttle.
City officials say they just need to get together and brainstorm even more ideas.
"A lot of money was put into it, so might as well use it," says Harbin.
"And Chloe (Tate's daughter) is going to love it," says Tate.
City officials say in the end, they want to make Joe Becker an even better stadium, to let little Chloe's own kids someday also have a family-friendly place to enjoy.
In the middle of all this thinking of ways to move on from the Joplin Blasters, there's uncertainty over what will happen to Joplin land that the Blasters' owners still own. The Suarez family owns a large piece of Joe Becker's main parking lot. Upcoming mediation sessions between the City and the Suarez family may end up with the City buying the land from the Suarez family, or the City paying rent to use this land.
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