Northwoods League proposes to renovate Simmons Field

The Board of Park Commissioners met yesterday. One of the informational items on the agenda included a presentation by the Northwoods League (NWL), a well-established summer collegiate wood-bat baseball league.  Their passion is to “provide family fun at a reasonable price.”  NWL teams promote value and entertainment with a number of promotions scheduled throughout the season and often nightly.

Representatives in attendance at the meeting making the presentation included Vern Stenman, president of the Madison Mallards, Steve Schmitt, owner of the Mallards, and Conor Caloia, general manager of the Mallards.  They are interested in bringing $1 million in renovations to Simmons Field to allow a new franchise in Kenosha to start playing in the league next summer.  They brought big colored depictions of what the ball field would look like, and even a sample seat from Camden Yards in Baltimore, which would give it “a vintage feel.”  The group is seeking $750,000 from the city to help facilitate the work.

Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman introduced the group and made a few introductory comments.  Bosman said that Eric Olson and his group, the Kenosha Simmons Baseball Organization (KSBO), use the field on a daily basis.  They’ve struggled to maintain it.  “But, Eric and the ball players stepped up.  Now, we want to take it to the next level.”  When the league wasn’t using the field, it would be available for local high schools to use.  The NWL would set up and maintain the park. Bosman said that “with Sheridan Road being much improved now, with the new Walgreen’s and the new Culver’s coming, it behooves the city to invest in this project.  It will bring it u to the standard.  The next step is to negotiate the lease in the next 60 days, and to bring it for approval to the Common Council.  Our proposal will follow after the presentation to inform everyone of where the money will come from.”

Schmitt, the owner, said that “we are her for the long term.  We’re not here to make a buck.  I’m 65.  The college kids have no money.  They spend their summers in front of the scouts.  These are wholesome, young, good men.”  The presentation showed how the league invested $2.2 million in Madison.  They won the “Renovation of the Year” award less than 12 months ago.  They thought that Kenosha would “fit very nicely.”  It would be an asset to the community with its dramatic improvement.  “The timing feels good.”

More details were given regarding the proposed materials to be used, the dugouts, the brick facade, concession space, merchandise stand, and even a party deck.  They even mentioned a hand-operated score board, “which turns back nostalgia.”  Food and beer service would also be available in the stands.  The proposed project budget is over $990,000.

Bosman proposed a ten-year lease agreement, which called for $250,000 worth of renovations in the first year of the agreement.  They would pay the annual lease fee, which is yet to be determined.  The agreement would be co-signed by the league.  A total of $750,000 would be required from the city.  The project would be completed in May, 2013, and play would start in June.

They estimated that there would be four full-time and approximately 70 to 100 part-time seasonal jobs.  For most employees, these are their first jobs.  They stated that they liked to “keep it local.”  Alderperson Michael Orth asked about the food.  They said that they serve bratwurst, turkey legs, bacon cheeseburgers between two doughnuts, “just like at the State fair.”  One of the reps said that “people who come to a ball park, let’s face it, their diets are out the window.”  They sold nine tons of bratwurst in Madison last year.

Olson stated that legally, the city owns the field.  The Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) is on the lease now.  Orth thought that they would be cooperative.

Frank Pacetti, city administrator, stated that the money would come from the Simmons cell tower fund and future cell tower fees, impact fees directly related to this field, $2,000 in funds from the Alford Park storage field, and the $30,000 a year lease for ten years, totally $300,000.  Pacetti said that the CIP would be amended without using any tax payer funds.  Orth said that this item would be put on a future agenda soon.

The NWL debuted in 1994 as a five-team league with franchises in Kenosha, Wausau, Manitowoc, Dubuque (Iowa), and Rochester (Minnesota).  It has evolved into one of the largest and most prestigious summer collegiate leagues in the country.  They simulate a pro schedule with teams playing 70 games in 76 days from early June to mid-August.  Madison continues to be the most popular team in the league.  The Madison Mallards averaged a league-best 6,278 fans last season and ranked 23rd among all affiliated, independent, and summer collegiate franchises in North America.  That puts them in the top ten percent.  There are 16 teams in the league, and they’ve had 901,652 fans walk through their gates last summer, a record for any summer collegiate league.  Ticket prices typically range from $7 to $12.  An adult beverage would cost $3.50.

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Other agenda items included:

  • The request from the Mahone Fund for the following on Saturday, August 18, 2012, was unanimously approved:  To hold their event in Celebration Park for their “HarborPark Blues and Jazz Festival.”   They also requested use of park equipment, permission to sell fermented malt beverages, to extend the park closing hours from 10:00pm to 11:00pm, and full sponsorship.  Tim Mahone representing the Foundation spoke on behalf of the event.  Alderperson Anthony Kennedy wants the foundation to look for way to be self-sufficient next year.
  • The request from Bonus Round Productions for the following on August 11-12, 2012 (rain dates of August 18-19, 2012), was deferred for two weeks, and the commissioners asked that a representative attend the next meeting to answer questions.  They requested to use the Bandshell and Pennoyer Park for a community event, and for permission to sell fermented malt beverages.  Orth wanted to make sure that they had the proper security measures in place because of the alcohol that will be served.
  • Shelley Billingsley, director of engineering, stated that a new spreadsheet depicting CIP change requests would be added to each month’s agenda in the future.
  • The committee also approved unanimously the CIP amendment for the Lakefront Water Feature.  Billingsley said that work had begun, but that they are looking for aid with inspections.
  • The commissioners agreed to reschedule the May 28, 2012, meeting to Tuesday, May 29, 2012.

Informational items included:

 

  • The Project Status Report;
  • The sign review for the Anderson #2 Ball Field; and
  • Stewardship Grants for Southport Park.  This is the fifth grant that the city has received.

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