This year will not see any new Minor League ballparks, save for the delayed opening of Hartford's Dunkin' Donuts Park. But 2018 could be a different story, thanks to a recent development in North Augusta, South Carolina.
As reported in the Augusta Chronicle, the North Augusta City Council has given final approval to the Project Jackson Master Development Agreement (MDA). The centerpiece of this long-gestating $200 million initiative is a $40 million stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets, who currently play on the other side of the Savannah River, in Georgia.
The GreenJackets' stadium accounts for more than half of the estimated $72 million the city plans to spend on Project Jackson; as reported by local TV station WJBF, that figure also includes two parking decks, a conference center and improvements to the project's Riverfront Park location. The remaining cost of Project Jackson -- which is expected to include a hotel, apartments, office buildings, a senior living facility, restaurants and shops -- will be funded privately.
"We've been at this, as you know, for more than four years," GreenJackets president Jeff Eiseman told WJBF. "This is a huge, momentous moment for the Augusta GreenJackets, and I'm thrilled."
The council's final approval, confirmed in a 6-1 vote, came Jan. 30 following a third reading of the Project Jackson MDA. A groundbreaking ceremony has yet to be scheduled, but the timeline calls for the ballpark to open for the 2018 campaign.
The GreenJackets -- Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants -- play in Lake Olmstead Stadium, which opened in 1995. Along with Kannapolis' Intimidators Stadium, it is the third-oldest ballpark in the South Atlantic League. As reported in a previous edition of this column, Kannapolis is aiming to break ground in July on a new ballpark that would open in 2019.
Texas League intrigue
A recurring topic of conversation -- around Minor League Baseball and in this column -- revolves around what city would replace San Antonio in the Double-A Texas League should the city build a Triple-A stadium. As reported previously, the city of Amarillo is one locale that would love to host the relocated San Antonio Missions (or another affiliated team, should one be available).
There is competition, however. On Feb. 7, EverythingLubbock.com reported that David Nelson, owner of Lubbock, Texas-based South Paw Sports and Entertainment, was working on a Minor League Baseball feasibility study. The following day, MyHighPlains.com provided more information on the feasibility study, adding that a "stadium in Lubbock could be ready for potential teams in 2020."
The third potential suitor is Wichita, Kansas, which -- per the Wichita Eagle -- is considering building a new downtown stadium in the hopes it would attract an affiliated team.
"[Mayor Jeff Longwell] is involved in two conversations with affiliated baseball," city council member Pete Meitzner told the Eagle. "Affiliation is the goal."
Wichita is no stranger to the Texas League. The Wichita Wranglers played at now-83-year-old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium through the 2007 campaign before relocating to Springdale, Arkansas, in 2008 and becoming the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
A 6,000-seat Minor League stadium could be built in Malden, Massachusetts, as early as 2019. Alexander Bok, the developer spearheading the project, provided an update to the Malden city council on Feb. 7.
"We are now in the process of securing [an affiliated] team and aiming to break ground later this year," Bok said, as reported on the website WickedLocal.com .
The stadium project, which calls for $60 million in private funding and $20 million in state funds, still faces significant roadblocks, including the purchase of parcels of land owned by three privately held businesses. Additionally, any affiliated team playing in the area would have to be approved by the Boston Red Sox, who have territorial rights.
At the council meeting, Wok said he'd provide his next project update on April 11.
What's next for Pawtucket?
McCoy Stadium, longtime home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, was the subject of a $105,000 feasibility study paid for jointly by the team, city and state of Rhode Island. The study, commissioned in the wake of a failed effort by new ownership to move the team to neighboring Providence, concluded it would cost $68 million to renovate the facility and $78 million to build a new stadium at the same location.
The above scenario is, in a word, unfeasible. In the wake of the study's Jan. 26 release, the Providence Journal reported that it was "more or less a death knell for professional baseball at McCoy Stadium beyond 2020 -- the final year of the PawSox's current lease at McCoy."
What's next? The Journal mentioned that the "PawSox have commenced a search for other suitable sites in Pawtucket" and that they will prioritize "areas connected to the downtown, visible from the highway and accessible through public transit."
The PawSox are co-owned by former Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino. Current Red Sox president Sam Kennedy also presides over Fenway Sports Management, which is a limited partner in the PawSox ownership group.
At a PawSox-hosted event, Kennedy stated his preference for a new PawSox stadium with dimensions replicating those at Fenway Park. He also said the PawSox are a "stand-alone" entity and, as such, the Red Sox would play no role in funding a stadium.