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Flashback Friday: New park (1995)10/22/2010 12:45 PM ET
By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
This week's Flashback
takes you back to Sunday, April 16, 1995. It
is just four days before the scheduled opening of Fox Cities Stadium, the brand
new home of the brand new team in Appleton, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
The picture at the top of this
article is taken from the center section. More
pictures along a similar line may be found at Rattler
New park keeps Appleton in the game
There were no gray areas, no sugar coating, no alternatives.In terms of pro baseball remaining in the Fox Valley, it had come down to an either/or proposition.
Either build a new stadium to replace the crumbling Goodland Field or watch the area's minor league baseball team go the way of the pterodactyl.
It really was that simple.
"We knew in order to survive we had to build it," said Steve Malliet, general manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, formerly known as the Appleton Foxes. "We really had no choice."
For years, Appleton Foxes officials had tried to make Goodland Field work. General managers came and general managers went and the one thing they all shared was a sincere, if misguided, belief that fans would flock to the cramped, inaccessible, 50-year old park that was far beyond venerable and spinning toward decaying.
But they didn't. And they haven't for years.
Finally, there reached a point last year when it became obvious that either a new stadium would have to be built or the team would have to move.
For years, the vultures had been circling over the franchise. They were well-heeled investors in other communities who were desperate for a minor league team and well aware the game was struggling in Appleton.
"We'd been getting offers for the last several years," said John Wollner, president of Appleton Baseball Club, Inc.
They haven't gotten any lately. And they don't figure to for a while.
With the building of the $4.5 million Fox Cities Stadium just off U.S. 41, Appleton baseball is back from the brink of extinction.
"We are going to have a top-notch, high-quality facility," said Mike Reese, a member of the Wisconsin Sports Authority, which got the funding to build the park.
But it hasn't been easy.
While plans for the new stadium have kicked around town for years, they only really got serious a year and a half ago when it became obvious that major improvements to Goodland Field, mandated by a new Player Development Contract, would cost at least $1 million.
"It really wasn't in our best long-term interest to do that," Wollner said. "We could have put a $1 million into Goodland Field and it wouldn't have done anything for attendance. We had to grow the attendance base."
The Foxes drew only 56,000 fans in 1993 and improved that to 76,000 last year. But it was nowhere near what was required to make the team viable.
An old stadium and no fans. It was not exactly the ideal mix.
It was obvious to everyone interested in baseball in the Valley that either a new stadium be built or ... well, you know.
A fund-raising campaign was begun, a design team hired and a financial package assembled.
The Appleton Baseball Club, Inc. already held an option on 40 acres of land near the Fox River Mall and all that was stopping construction was cash.
"There were three or four months last summer where we really had to do some soul-searching as to how we were going to pay for this stadium," Wollner said. "How much risk did we want to take?"
Enough, as it turned out.
Eventually, $2 million was raised in corporate and individual donations and another $2 million has been assumed in a long-term debt package. Rattlers officials are confident the other $500,000 or so will be financed in the next two years. The Sports Authority owns the stadium and has given the Rattlers a 40-year lease. Terms of the lease were not released.
The stadium broke ground last August, the new team name was introduced in September and, said Wollner, "Everything has taken off since then."
To date, nearly 750 season tickets have been sold. Last year, 115 were sold. More amazing, almost as many tickets have already been sold for this season than in total attendance all of last season.
The stadium will seat 3,500 in the stands with room for an additional 2,500 on grass slopes on either side of the stadium.
"It's going to be much better than Goodland Field," Malliet said. "It's a great location for baseball with the woods in the background. It's a level field. Much more comfortable seating. The concessions will be nicer."
There will also be more parking and the stadium will be more accessible than Goodland.
Wollner said total attendance of 140,000 this season would allow the team to break even.
"But I'd be disappointed if we didn't get 200,000," he said.
The project, which normally requires 11 months to complete, is being done in seven so, literally, the stadium will still be going up when the Rattlers open at home on Thursday.
But the necessities will be done and only behind-the-scenes work will be left to do, said Malliet.
That the project has been completed at all is amazing enough. Now the real task for Rattlers officials is just down the road.
"The curiousity of a new stadium will make a difference, I'm sure," Malliet said. "But once we get the fans, we have to do a great job of getting them back."
FOX CITIES STADIUM FACTS
Who owns Fox Cities Stadium?
The Fox Cities Amateur Sports Authority, which was created as a non-profit organization for the specific purpose of building the facility. The Rattlers lease the stadium. And the lease runs 40 years.
How much will the stadium coast?
The final cost will come in at $4.5 million, which is just over the original projection of $4.3 million.
How was it financed?
Individual and corporate donations totaled about $2 million and another $2 million is being handled through a long-term debt package. There is still a shortfall of $500,000, but the Sports Authority believes it will make that up within the next two years.
There are two other pictures from the pullout section that show the stadium under construction that can be seen over at this post on Rattler Radio.
Past Flashback Friday's: