The New Orleans Baby Cakes will relocate to Wichita, Kansas, according to the multiple reports and the mayor of the Midwest city.
Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell released renderings of a proposed waterfront ballpark on Thursday and said the Triple-A Marlins affiliate had filed an application to leave New Orleans. Neither the Baby Cakes nor Minor League Baseball have confirmed any potential move. New Orleans senior vice president and general manager Cookie Rojas said the Cakes "are looking forward to the 2019 season here in New Orleans."
Longwell said the city hopes to have a new stadium built and ready by 2020, although the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which owns the Baby Cakes' current ballpark, released a statement Thursday saying the Triple-A team will remain in New Orleans through the expiration of its lease at "The Shrine" following the 2021 season.
"We are sad to know that the Baby Cakes will be relocating to another city; however, we remain committed to Minor League Baseball in the New Orleans market and it is our intention to find another team to play here," Kyle France, LSED chairman, said in the statement reported by NOLA.com. "In the meantime, we will continue our strong working relationship with the team ownership and will fulfill all contractual obligations through the end of the lease terms."
Regardless of timing, any potential move would need to be approved by Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball.
Longwell, who held a news conference at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium alongside Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, announced the plans while wearing a Miami Marlins cap. Miami's player development contract with the New Orleans franchise runs through the end of the 2020 season.
"We're not just building a baseball stadium, we're hoping to build a gathering place for the community," said Longwell.
The new stadium in Wichita will replace Lawrence-Dumont, which Longwell said will be torn down. The new ballpark will cost between $60-73 million and include 7,000 seats with a total capacity of 10,000 to 11,000 fans. Demolition and construction will be financed by bonds fueled by local sales and property taxes. The facility will be along the Arkansas River and feature a museum, a pedestrian bridge across the river, a center field entrance facing the water and a "baseball village." The stadium would also house the National Baseball Congress, Longwell said.
Wichita last hosted a Minor League team in 2007, the final year the Texas League's Wichita Wranglers called Lawrence-Dumont its home. That club, which had been the Kansas City Royals' Double-A affiliate, began play in Wichita in 1987 before relocating to Springdale, Arkansas, in 2008 to become the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The stadium's current tenant -- the independent Wichita Wingnuts -- were told to vacate the ballpark within 30 days. Longwell, standing at home plate in Lawrence-Dumont, said the 84-year-old stadium could be demolished by this autumn.
Longwell spoke of embracing the city's riverfront property and said the current design concept is just the beginning of the process.
The news comes less than two years since New Orleans rebranded itself from the Zephyrs to the Baby Cakes, a playful nod to Mardi Gras, local cakes and culture in the Louisiana city. The team, which plays in the Metairie suburb of New Orleans, finished the 2018 season last among the 16 PCL clubs in total and average attendance. The organization has a long history in New Orleans and was the first sports team in the city to get back on its feet following Hurricane Katrina in 2006.