Snappers keep vision alive

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BELOIT - The Midwest League season is over for the Beloit Snappers, but for the Professional Baseball Association - the organization operating the team - it still feels like a tight game with survival at stake.

When the current Minor League Player Development Contract runs out in 2020 the BPBA is well aware antiquated Pohlman Field won't meet the new standards for minor league stadiums.

In fact, the Snappers will need to have a plan in place for a new stadium long before 2020 or the Minor League Baseball will take over the franchise.

"We have been scolded that we weren't aggressive enough sooner," said Jim Agate, the BPBA Vice President and Chairman of the Stadium Committee. "There is probably some validity to that. We tried to over-analyze instead of just moving. Now we're in a position where you have to let it fly and hopefully the pieces all come together.

"I am on a monthly basis reporting to (MWL President) Dick Nussbaum. He wants to know progress. We need to have things in place by the end of this year. We need commitments and signatures on paper. Our board's timeline calls for 2019 construction."

The good news is that after years of striking out, Agate and the Snappers have genuine optimism a new downtown stadium can be built and the franchise in Beloit will be saved.

"We really have three options," Agate said. "Number one is to find a downtown location and funding for a new stadium, Then we need to sell the team to someone who will operate it in Beloit. That's the option we're pursuing."

If their efforts fail, another option is to sell the team to an owner who'll relocate the franchise. Or the Snappers could simply do nothing and let minor league baseball step in and take over the team.

"Obviously we're pushing for the first option and we've been making progress," Agate said. "The past three months the talks we've had have been very positive. We know people are out there asking questions. We've had meetings and we'll have more meetings. We're feeling good about it, but we're not there yet."

The Snappers' desire to move downtown is a drastic change from their earlier goal of moving to a visible and easily accessible spot off the interstate. The model for that was provided by the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. But now they Snappers are much more aligned with successful Midwest League stadium projects in Midland, Mich., and Dayton, Ohio, where new stadiums became integral parts of downtown developments.

"To be honest, I'm not a real big baseball fan, but I'm a Beloit fan," Agate said. "Having a stadium tied in with the city center makes sense. Beloit has changed over the past three or four years and we see all what is going on downtown with the college and the YMCA and all the other improvements. A downtown stadium makes sense for Beloit now. It would be a great fit."

Agate said people need to forget about what Pohlman Field is and start thinking about what a new stadium could be.

"It's not a stand-alone stadium that will succeed on its own," Agate said. "A new stadium could be used eight or nine months out of the year. You're not just building a stadium for however many Snappers games you would have. It would be a place for trade shows, group outings, other sports events, concerts. There are so many other uses that make sense for a downtown location. We don't have anything that fits that right now."

Members of the Snappers' Stadium Committee visited Midland and Agate hopes fans view a video about that visit which shows the favorable comparisons between the two cities. It is posted on Snappersbaseball.com.

"We'd like everyone to get the feel for what we saw in Midland," he said. "It really opened our eyes that this can be done here. We're already ahead of the game because we have an existing franchise."

The project in Midland moved quickly because of the involvement with Dow Chemical and a spare-no-expense attitude. The stadium there had a price tag over $30 million.

Agate said all the requirements for Beloit could run more in the $15 million range, which would provide for a stadium similar to the Timber Rattlers' venue in Appleton.

"It would be closer to that project and different than anything in this area," Agate said. "It's going to be a much different experience going to a game than it is now."

Agate admits the team's future is complicated.

"It's a long process," he said. "It's not like a typical business deal in which you sell something to someone and its gone. We're trying to put two different parts together and make it all work. We need to find a location, get a stadium built that meets all the requirements, then entice an ownership group that will professionally run a baseball team. It has to make sense to them to keep the team here."

Agate said the non-profit Snappers will sweeten the deal by taking the money they are paid for the franchise, which could range from $5-8 million, and help the new owner pay for the lease of the new stadium. It all hinges on a long-term commitment.

The Snappers hope fans have come to the realization Pohlman Field's days as home of the Snappers are numbered.

"Some people still ask, why do we need a new stadium?" Agate said. "It's comparing a bicycle to a Rolls Royce. Places that are successful like Midland and Dayton are run like well-managed businesses. The food service part of it alone is mind-boggling."

Agate said the mom-and-pop operation the Snappers have held onto for so long needs to change.

"We need to bring in the professionalism you see in other communities," he said. "The volunteers here have been incredible keeping this team going for so many years, but that's not the vision Snappers baseball will look like.

"Midland has a staff of 250 over the summer. There's a strong economic development tied to the stadium. It will bring people in from all over. It will bring amenities around the stadium. The impact would be huge. It's not just for the dollar amount but also what it would do for community pride and making Beloit a better place."

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