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Brewers to review Sounds stadium talks before renewing Nashville affiliation

By Joey Garrison, Nashville City Paper

 

Before its contract with the Nashville Sounds expires this month, Milwaukee Brewers management hopes to see progress on new stadium talks from the team’s triple-A minor league partner to the south.

 

The Brewers two-year player development contract with the Sounds comes to an end Sept. 30. Mayor Karl Dean’s administration last year commissioned a study on potential stadium sites that recommended three locations for a new Sounds ballpark. But since the release of that December 2011 report, talks with the mayor’s office on a new stadium haven’t gained momentum.

 

“We’re interested to hear how things are progressing down there in Nashville as far as the new stadium goes,” Scott Martens, the Brewers’ manager of player development and minor league operations, told The City Paper last week when asked whether the organization would renew its Sounds affiliation.

 

“I know they’ve talked about it for a number of years,” he said. “I know they did a survey this past fall or winter ... to determine some potential sites. But there really hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion that I’ve heard talked about since that survey was done. We’re waiting to get an update from the Sounds ownership as to where those talks may be or where they may not be.”

 

The Sounds season concluded Monday with a home game. According to Martens, Major League Baseball provides a two-week window following the end of the season for teams to declare intent to either extend or discontinue player development contracts with minor league affiliates. At that point, the Brewers could explore other markets.

 

“From a business perspective, the Brewers are very happy with the Sounds current ownership,” Martens said. “We’ve had a great working relationship with them. So, things are very positive from that aspect. It really boils down to the facility.

 

“It’s a great city — a baseball city — from our perspective,” he said. “They’ve got a great fan base. And I think they deserve better from a baseball standpoint.”

 

The Sounds, which a group of investors called MFP Baseball purchased three and a half years ago, has operated as the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate since 2005. Upon taking the reins of the Sounds, MFP has eyed a new downtown stadium to replace 35-year-old Greer Stadium, the oldest in the Pacific Coast League.

 

Sounds owners are hoping for assistance from Dean’s administration to land a private-public partnership for a new ballpark. But in terms of large-scale second-term projects, Dean’s office is currently concentrated on an expensive bus rapid transit project proposed along the Broadway-West End Corridor, extending to Five Points in East Nashville.

 

Given the scope of the massive BRT project, some observers question whether Dean’s administration would be in position to simultaneously lead the way for a new Sounds stadium over the next three years.

 

“Mayor Dean supports having minor league baseball in Nashville, but any sort of future investment must be led by the private sector and must make sense for the city,” Dean’s press secretary Bonna Johnson said. “The contract under discussion now is an arrangement entirely between the Brewers and the Sounds.”

 

According to Doug Scopel, Sounds assistant general manager, attendance at Greer Stadium during the 2012 season was 321,042. That figure (an average of 4,792 per game) marked a small decline from 2011 when 335,143 people attended Sounds games at Greer. The Sounds had a league-high five rainouts this past season.

 

Metro’s 2011 stadium site evaluation study, undertaken by Kansas-City based Populous Inc., suggested three potential locations for a new ballpark: the east bank of the Cumberland River, the north Gulch area and the former Sulpher Dell site north of the state capitol building. Sounds ownership favors the east bank for a new stadium to replace Greer.

 

“The Sounds position has always been very clear,” Sounds lobbyist Tom White said. “There needs to be a new ballpark, and it’s also clear that they need to have the [mayor’s] administration concur with them as to the best site. The Sounds are still hoping that will happen in the very near future.”

 

Asked how long the stadium issue could remain unresolved, White said, “As long as the Sounds and the Brewers have a good relationship, it could go on.”

 

Based on precedent, the Brewers position on a new Sounds stadium should not be interpreted as an ultimatum.

 

Leading up to the renewal of the Brewers-Sounds player development contract two years ago, Martens also made it clear the major league franchise hoped progress would be made on the Sounds stadium front. Stadium discussions were in a similar status then, but the Brewers renewed the contract nonetheless.

 

“I don’t think we’re in a position, the way the process works, to make demands,” Martens told The City Paper last week. “Would we like to be in a new facility? Absolutely.”

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I'd like to see the Brewers keep their affiliates. It was cool when it used to be Helena, Stockton, Beloit, El Paso, Zephyrs for year after year. There was a National Geographic article that went through the Brewer farm teams and interviewed John Jaha and Darryl Hamilton and some other guys before they got called up.

 

Now that they've had the same teams again for a while, I'm starting to get attached to these ones.

 

My brother runs a blog (http://sportchange.wordpress.com/category/milb/) looking at realignment/relocation/and new nickname/logo scenarios in sports. About half his posts seem to be about MiLB. He did one about the expiring PDCs a few weeks ago. Reading it has gotten me interested in the minors again--beyond Brewer prospects.

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I wonder how much the Brewers wanted to stay with the Sounds and how much of a factor a lack of alternative options played into it. Even in the article the Brewers commented on the stadium situation, which is extremely old news.

 

It's sort of odd that the 2 best facilities in the system outisde of AZ are the 2 A ball affiliates. There are certainly positives from a geographic standpoint to have the AA and AAA close to each other, but the stadium situation in both cities will only become a larger issue with time. How long can the Brewers truly allow their best prospects to come through 2nd or 3rd class facilities?

 

The Sounds are a first class organization outside of the stadium situation, from MLB quality media notes every day, to the game stories, archived audio, timely press releases, and so on. We're extremely fortunate to have that kind of management not only from Nashville, but Wisconsin and Helena as well.

 

I'm not sure the stadium situation matters so much in short season ball like in Helena, but I would hate to lose Nashville as an affiliate simply because the facility is so outdated the Brewers face a competitive disadvantage from a development standpoint.

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

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"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."

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How good does a triple-A park need to be? As long as the field itself is up to AAA standards and the players aren't markedly distracted with terrible amenities, what's left to worry about? If fan attendance was the concern, the market should take care of that -- either it's profitable at the gates or its not, how much should the parent club care about that?

 

When I was at Greer stadium this past summer, I never thought twice about the facilities. Sure, it's not hard to believe -- at all -- that other AAA parks are newer, bigger, better, but the stadium was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I thought it was a pretty great all-around MiLB experience.

"We all know he is going to be a flaming pile of Suppan by that time." -fondybrewfan
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I've always assumed in the Nashville & Huntsville 'facilities' discussions that the Brewers were as concerned with the clubhouse/training room/workout facility as with the playing ground & stadium. Of course, I know nothing about the Sounds' & Stars' facilities in those respects.
Stearns Brewing Co.: Sustainability from farm to plate
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Other locations that expire in 2014

 

Buffalo

Charlotte

Durham

Indianapolis (why did we leave there in the first place?)

Norfolk

Pawtucket

Rochester

Syracuse

Albuquerque

Colorado Springs

Fresno

Las Vegas

Memphis

New Orleans

Oklahoma City

Sacramento

Salt Lake

Tacoma

Tucson

 

I would imagine some teams won't be available due to proximity to their big league clubs (Colorado Springs, Pawtucket, Tacoma etc) and I would imagine the Brewers would want to avoid the Western PCL teams like the plague.

 

Edit: Just read Indianapolis moved on because of losing teams.

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Brewer Fanatic Staff

This will just leave you shaking your heads, scroll down for Greer Stadium detail by Greer Stadium detail.

 

Not good.

 

I’d probably be up all night if I named every problem with this ballpark. Instead of naming them all, I’ll post a few. Let’s start with the restrooms. Usually upon entering a ballpark, I head straight for the seating area to search for balls. However, I arrived unusually early during one of the games to acquire a 2013 Nashville Sounds Team Trading Card Set that was given to the first 2,000 fans to pass through the gates. After waiting outside for nearly two hours, I had to take a wicked piss when I finally got inside. This bathroom was beyond horrendous. The piping behind the trough style urinals was broken and shooting a stream of water stronger than what was coming out of me. The sinks did not have hot water, and the soap dispensers were also broken. I’d hate to be a person who had to drop a #2. I quickly peered in the #2 stall and was surprised by a mouse chewing on the huge roll of toilet paper that was covered in dirt and laying on the uncleared floor. The only good thing I noticed in the bathroom was the huge mirror behind the sinks. Excellent for those Facebook “Mirror Pics”. Hopefully, someone from the Nashville Sounds reads this. Your bathroom on the Lower Third Base Line needs condemned. You should be ashamed to even let people use such facilities. I’ve been in Port-a-Johns at concerts that were in better shape.

 

And that was just the start...

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Hopefully, someone from the Nashville Sounds reads this. Your bathroom on the Lower Third Base Line needs condemned. You should be ashamed to even let people use such facilities. I’ve been in Port-a-Johns at concerts that were in better shape.

Wow. I don't think I can bring myself to read on.

Stearns Brewing Co.: Sustainability from farm to plate
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Brewer Fanatic Staff

Good news, hopefully the Sounds reward the Brewers' patience, look past the product on the field that Milwaukee has handed Nashville in recent years, and re-up with the Sounds beyond 2014:

 

Latest: Plans coming together for new ballpark in 2015

 

$80 million new Sounds stadium project at Sulphur Dell in the works

That link includes a six-minute plus interview with Mayor Karl Dean.

 

More links, the next two also include video reports:

 

Mayor pitches $80M plan to build new Nashville Sounds stadium

 

Nashville Sounds Could Soon Get New Ballpark

 

Nashville: Bring baseball back to Sulphur Dell

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Brewer Fanatic Staff

Six little words helped rekindle Sounds ballpark talks

Gail Kerr, The Tennessean

 

A deal to build a new Nashville Sounds stadium, which had come to a screeching, chilly halt over a year ago, was reborn just off the pitcher’s mound.

 

It was a cool April day, and Mayor Karl Dean had been asked to throw out the first ball of the first game of the season at Greer Stadium, the Sounds’ current home. As Dean walked off the mound, Sounds CEO and part owner Frank Ward was standing nearby. He turned to the mayor as they walked back to the dugout and said, quite simply, “Let’s build a stadium. And let’s do it in Sulphur Dell.”

 

It was a complete turnaround from the gruff, abrupt man who had told the mayor and the public flat-out in December 2011 that it was downtown or no deal — and who wanted the city to put up most of the money. Dean showed the Sounds delegation the door and all but slammed it into their backsides.

 

The deal was dead. But now a proposal to build an $80 million ballpark in North Nashville is very much alive, albeit far from signed, sealed let alone delivered.

 

What happened? Partly it was Ward’s willingness to say six little words: “I am sorry,” and “I was wrong.” The mayor called his top team together early the next morning after the game and directed them to invite the Sounds back to the negotiating table.

 

Numerous people involved in the negotiation said it was Chris Ward, the 40-something-year-old son of Frank, who helped change his father’s mind. Chris Ward had visited Nashville and seen the possibilities in North Nashville. Now, the senior Ward believes that area, near the Bicentennial Capitol Mall, will be the next Gulch, ripe with possibilities to build residential and retail. They believe upwards of 4,000 Sounds fans could be walk-up customers on game day.

 

The next step is for the mayor to present the State Building Commission with a plan. The state owns 13 of the 15 acres needed. It’s land with a storied baseball history, having housed two teams, the last of which stopped playing ball in the 1960s. If the state gives Metro the land, it will in exchange get a built-in audience to use the mall, one of the state’s underused but most beautiful attractions. It also will get a parking garage for up to 750 state employees to use during the day, and for Sounds ticket holders to use at other times.

 

Frank Ward had originally seen Sulphur Dell as a lot of empty parking lots with weeds in a “bad” part of town. Ward’s son saw something different. He saw land, lots of it, in a city that is the buzz of the country. He saw Germantown, hopping with restaurants and young residents who like to walk and bike to their destinations. He saw the potential to help the state build a new state museum, library and archives, cementing the area as a destination.

 

Other sites unsuited

 

Chris saw clearly, and he convinced his dad that the other sites mentioned are simply no longer viable. It would be too expensive to relocate a metals dealer from one site, and the other is small and the focus of other plans the mayor has for redeveloping the west side of the Cumberland River.

 

And he knows that waiting and gambling that the next mayor might favor a Sounds ballpark would be too risky.

 

The Sounds remain one of the best deals in the city for family fun. Most families can afford multiple nights at a Sounds game, unlike Predators and Titans games. You get to see quality AAA baseball. A new ballpark would also spark development of $30 million in residential development, something on which attorney Tom White is working with the Sounds. He is not involved in negotiations for a new stadium.

 

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” White said. “There’s huge possibilities over there. It will make a real game changer in terms of the dynamics of the city.”

 

All members around the negotiating table agree on a key point here: There is no deal yet. They are not even close. If the state won’t agree to put up the land, this thing is dead from the get-go. Right now, there is no lease agreement, no term sheet, no financing plan, no specifics about how much the Sounds would put in versus taxpayers. The administration has made it clear the Sounds better bring it large if this is going to happen.

 

“We’ve got to have the state land,” said John Triggs, attorney for the Sounds. “The state contribution to this is critical. We aren’t there yet. But this is a great beginning. I’m way more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time.”

 

It is a complete change in tone. Everybody is at the table, and they’re all playing fair.

 

Play ball.

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I wish them a lot of luck. I will most likely be giving up my season tickets next year after 7 years for a few reasons. But while the area they are talking about is a growing part of town with many great restaurants, the one thing I'm sure it's lacking is parking. It will really stink if you end up paying more for parking then you do for your ticket.
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