Simmons Field meeting

There were about sixty people in attendance tonight at the Simmons Field public information meeting held at the Southwest Library.  Here is a rendering of the ball field which was shown at the meeting:

Mayor Keith Bosman, as well as other city representatives, public works director Mike Lemens, community development and inspections director Jeff LaBahn, and parks superintendent Jeff Warnock, were in attendance.  Alderpersons who were present were Steve Bostrom, Curt Wilson, Chris Schwartz, Jan Michalski, Kevin Mathewson, Keith Rosenberg, David Bogdala, and G. John Ruffolo.  Vern Stenman and Conor Caloia were the two representatives from the Northwoods League.

Bosman made a few introductory remarks.  The Northwoods League’s main franchise is in Madison.  They are looking to Kenosha because Kenosha is the fourth largest city in Wisconsin.  The league started out with 5 teams; now, they are up to 16 teams in four states.  They will run 35 games from June to mid-August.  The team in Wausau draws 1,200 to 1,700 people a game; Madison draws 6,000 people a game.  If this gets approved, construction would start in the spring of 2013, baseball games would continue in the summer, and in the fall, the remainder of the work would be completed to have the opening pitch thrown out on June 1, 2014.  Bosman brought with him a copy of the 30-page lease, which is ready to be voted on by the Common Council on Monday night.

Caloia said that the Northwoods League is a growing league.  He said that he hopes the next team will be here in Kenosha.  They are making a commitment of a minimum of ten years.  Capital improvements will total $500,000, plus $350,000 in lease payments to the city.  They will be paying for the utilities.  Currently, there is an $80 lease fee to the clubs who use the park.  The Northwoods League will be maintaining the park, and will not be charging a lease fee to the users.

Stenman said that he feels good about the Northwoods League coming here to Kenosha.  He addressed the topics of fireworks, parking, and Zion, Illinois, topics which usually raise the most questions.  As mentioned in the article on the meeting at the Park Commission last night, fireworks will be restricted to Friday and Saturday nights, no booms, and no later than 9:30 to 9:45 pm.  Click here to read that article:  Northwoods League Lease Approved by Parks Commission.  One man wanted to know if the Northwoods League representatives had met with the Fire Department yet.  They have not.  Bosman read from the lease that the league would be responsible to obtain any and all permits and approvals needed.  Stenman said that “fireworks don’t define us.  We’re all about families and affordable family entertainment.”

Caloia said that the field’s capacity will be approximately 1,800 to 2,000 seats.  There will be approximately 195 parking spots between the park and the railroad tracks, 50 more on Sheridan Road, and 100 at the Kenosha Achievement Center, for a total of approximately 350 spots.  “This is near where we need to be.  There will be some parking in the neighborhoods.”  There will be an entrance to the field from the back lot, which will be staffed to direct traffic and control the parking lot.  Alderperson Steve Bostrom did state that the parking was the biggest concern he had from the very beginning.  One lady wanted to know if the lot was going to be converted to a “real life parking lot, graded, with lights, etc.”  Bosman replied that paving and curbs are not in the near future, but that “it was not too far from making it a real lot.  There are funds allotted for in the Capital Improvement Plan.”

One gentleman was concerned, not so much with the parking in the neighborhood, but the people crossing Sheridan Road.  When the Twins were here, police directed the traffic.  He suggested signs that state it’s the state law to allow pedestrians the right of way and to slow down traffic.

The owner of Chester Electronics stated that he has about 100 spots for tenants of his shopping area.  Stenman replied that he would like to sit down with him soon.  It’s their plan to get to know the business leaders in the community.  In some instances, they’ve staffed areas in front of certain businesses to ensure that fans don’t use those parking areas.  “We can’t predict every problem, but we have an open-door policy to listen to your concerns, and work it out.  We want to be a good neighbor.”

Bosman said that it’s their goal to increase the business on Sheridan Road.  The area is coming back.  There is new business on Sheridan Road, with increased people from all over the community.  We are exposing the city and those from Lake County to the increased business.

Bosman said that he was asked the question, “What will make this a success for you?”  His reply was, “No complaints.”  But, he stated that he knows that’s an impossibility.  He did state that “this will create a good opportunity for business and vacant spaces.  This is a high-profile location, and any spin-off businesses that come to the area will be good.”

Stenman said that he gets excited driving around the neighborhood.  He stated that he “wants to be a part of it, the synergy.  I want to make it a better part of the town than it is.”

Alderperson Kevin Mathewson asked why the league representatives thought that the Twins, Kroakers, and Zion were not successful.  Stenman’s reply was that “they were the cutting edge of baseball in the country.  The Kroakers didn’t quite resonate, they didn’t advance.  The Zion league doesn’t exist today.  The Northwoods League was founded on old Midwest league ball parks.  Fourteen of the sixteen city teams have had some degree of failure.  We have experience in fixing damaged markets.  We see the opportunity, the markets.  There are seven teams in Wisconsin.  It makes sense.”

Jane Snediker, a Roosevelt Elementary School teacher, said that she hosted  former players from the Twins through the Mammoth years, felt that the problem was that the former leagues didn’t have roots in the city.  She felt that a public relations person to help the league work with the community was needed.  “We need to make kids want to come to the park,” she said.  Caloia said that they were going to hire four to five full-time employees, 10 to 15 summer interns, and about 100 part-time employees.  Their plan is to hire local folks.  Stenman stated that they have a confident model which uses an outbound sales force to go find fans.  They have developed innovative packages, like four tickets, four hats, and four value meals for $40.  They also sell seven-game mini-plans, and they described their “never wasted” ticket policy.  They work with not-for-profit organizations to help them raise money at their ballparks.

Alderperson David Bogdala asked what marketing studies were done by the Northwoods League here in Kenosha.  He wanted to know how the league knew that this would work in Kenosha.  “What made you come here?” He also wanted to know how they arrived at the city’s contribution of $750,000.  Colloya said that they did a marketing feasibility study.  They looked at businesses within the community within a thirty-minute drive, and within a twenty-mile radius, and the population base.  “There are half a million people within a half hour, and the number of businesses are both strong indicators that we would have success here, plus other factors.” Bogdala wanted to know if the raw data could be shared, and Caloia said yes.

Regarding the amount of $750,000, Bosman said that he had a number in mind, and they talked about the total capital improvements needed.  Over the last five months, they came up with a fair way to handle it, and then they worked out the smaller details.

Stenman said that $1.5 million would be needed to bring the park up over time.  Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a big number.  Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in capital improvements would be spent before May 1, 2014.  Over the next ten years, another $250,000 would be spent.  Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars would come to the city through the lease payments equaling over $850,000.  Their maintenance costs would run $25,000 to $30,000 a year, totaling over $1 million, making this a better facility.

Bosman said that the park is over 90 years old; it was built in 1922.  No money has been invested in the park, and it’s the busiest park in Kenosha.  The Twins left twenty years ago.  After ten years, $1 million will be invested in the park, and it will be upgraded to standards.

A woman asked about news coverage, and Caloia said that they haven’t made contact with the Kenosha News yet, but they were planning on”giving the news media a reason to cover us.”  Stenman said, “We have seventeen inning breaks, seventeen 90-second shows.”  He described the library reading programs in Madison whereby students earn free tickets for participation.

Another man wanted to know if there were any teams within fifty miles of major league teams, and they could think of only one, Mequon.  He wanted to know if this league could compete with the Brewers or the Cubs.  Stenman said that they don’t compete with those teams.  “When people talk about major league baseball, they talk baseball.”

A question regarding longevity yielded the following answer.  They have had two teams that started three years ago, one last year, the other thirteen have been around five or six years.  They’re proud of their twelfth year in Madison, their third year in Wisconsin Rapids.  That should speak to their stability.  Stenman said, “We don’t plan on being here for ten years.  We want to become an institution, part of the fabric of summertime in Kenosha.”  They also plan on having a “Name the Team” contest.

Ellen Ferwerda mentioned the idea of of the city taking profits from ticket sales.  Bosman said that there was a flat fee negotiated, $30,000 a year, for the first five years, and a sliding scale for the last five years.  Ferwerda still felt that a percentage of ticket sales was something that should be explored.  Caloia  said that that was not common for their line of business.  He said, “We will be making a half a million dollar investment that the city will own, plus the $350,000 rent that the city will receive.”

The president of the Kenosha Merchants Baseball League, Jeff Barsuli, said that he was happy that the pressure was off.  “We’ve been busting our butts.  The $750,000 is long overdue.  It’s unbelievably goodhearted of you.  I run a Father’s Day weekend tournament with 48 teams.  People go eat at nearby restaurants.  Do what you’re gonna do, and we’ll welcome you here wholeheartedly.”

There was a question about renovations, ticket prices, and concession prices.  Stenman said that it was the mayor’s concept to have a historic grandstand.  The work would be done in two phases.  Phase One is the main grandstand and dugouts.  He said, “We love to recycle.  The seats will come from Camden Yards in Baltimore.”  Bosman said that the main projects would start in the spring, the field would remain playable all summer, and then the remainder of the work would be done in the fall.  Caloia said that the concession stand would be built out, plus a walk-in merchandise store would be built.  In Madison, the best seat is $12.  Ticket prices averaged $9 to $10.  Domestic beers cost $3.75.  “We want the people to have affordable family fun,” said Caloia .  “When the economy is down, interest in minor league baseball goes up.”

Bogdala wanted to know if, before the Common Council meets on Monday, would the league be open to making any modifications?  Caloia said, “Never say never.  We’ve spent the last seven months drafting a document that we hope all are pleased with.”  Bosman said that “the team and the league have guaranteed the money.  The Council will do what the Council will do,” he said.

Bogdala  said that he just received a copy of the lease agreement yesterday.  Bostrom said that, as a real estate person, he thinks he knows where Bogdala’s concern is coming from.  The league representatives said that, if there are questions, they would be willing to make numerous trips to Kenosha before Monday to meet with whomever, and they would be at the Common Council meeting on Monday night to answer questions.  Bosman said that, if there were concerns, he’d rather be made aware of them sooner rather than later.

Bostrom wanted to know if the lease agreement could be put on the city’s website, and Bosman said that it would be placed there tomorrow.

Eric Olson stated that they have games starting on April 2nd.  Bosman said that he talked to the high schools about moving the games.

Another man had a question about the Northwoods League being a wood bat league, and the answer was yes.  They play 70 games in 77 days.  Major league scouts attend the games.  “This is the last step before being drafted,” said Stenman.  They talked about local talent from Carthage and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.  “That’s our hope,” he said.  “But, we make sure they are ready to play.  We rely on the coaches’ input.”

Ferwerda asked about a women’s league.  Stenman said, “We’re considering everything.”  Olson said that for the last seven years, they’ve had women’s baseball there.

Cliff Johnson said that he attended a Madison game and found recycled seats and friendly employees.  “There is never a dull moment,” he said.  Stenman said that, “in a three-hour game, there is about 17 minutes of action.  My five-year-old daughter loves the experience, the music, and the between-innings entertainment.”  Caloia said that they want people to attend the games and go on a three-hour vacation.  “If people leave the ball park with a smile on their face, we’ve done our job.”

Another man suggested making a video of all of the innings entertainment that take place at a Mallards game.  That would answer 99% o the questions here.  Bosman said that such a video could be shown on Channel 25.  The league also suggested that people view the Mallards YouTube page.

The last question was regarding the proficiency of the Northwoods League teams.  Stenman said, “This is the best amateur baseball league in the country.  It’s comparable to rookie ball.  A-ball is a step above.”  Caloia said that about two-thirds of the players go to professional league baseball.

A lady said that she was stunned as a result of the plan, and she hoped that the Common Council buys into this.  “This will revive the baseball legacy of Kenosha.”

The approval of the lease agreement will be on the agenda of the Common Council meeting on Monday, December 17th.  The meeting starts at 7 pm and takes place in the Municipal Building, 625 – 52nd Street, in Kenosha.

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