City, Vets Commission, Kernels Want $3 Million in Stadium Repairs

By Rick Smith, Reporter

This is what the Veteran's Stadium scoreboard looked like when it was first built in 2002. (SourceMedia Group)

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By Grant Burkhardt

CEDAR RAPIDS - The city’s 10-plus-year-old, $16-million minor league baseball stadium needs ongoing care, repair and upgrades to the tune of $3 million over the next decade.

That is the dollar figure set out in a proposed agreement to create a stadium capital-improvement fund to which the city of Cedar Rapids will contribute $1.5 million, the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission $1 million, and the Cedar Rapids Baseball Club $500,000, over 10 years.

The club owns the Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball team, the stadium’s principal tenant.

The proposed deal comes after some debate in the last couple of years as the ballclub has worked to make a case that the stadium, which opened in 2002, needed repairs and improvements to meet the standards required by Minor League Baseball.

Among the improvements pushed by the club has been a replacement of the stadium’s 10-year-old video scoreboard, which the ballclub has said is nearly obsolete. A new one will cost at least $500,000.

The City Council will conduct a public hearing on the proposed stadium agreement at its meeting on Aug. 28.

Council member Justin Shields, who has advocated for the council to addresses repair needs at the stadium, on Monday said he believes that he has full council support for the proposed upkeep agreement.

“You just don’t build a stadium and let it sit and deteriorate,” Shields said.

He said the stadium continues to have significant water-related problems.

Doug Nelson, the general manager of the Kernels, said on Monday that the ballclub is on board with the 10-year capital improvement plan. He, too, said water-related issues need to be fixed, adding that heavy rains send water backing up in the stadium’s locker rooms. The stadium could need a new scoreboard as soon as next season, he said.

Mike Jager, the Veterans Memorial Commission’s executive director, on Monday said the commission also supports the proposed agreement for a capital-improvement fund at a stadium that he noted is nearing the end of its 11th minor league baseball season.

Jager said the $3-million size of the fund represents about 20 percent of the cost of the stadium construction, which he said was “not an unreasonable amount” to put back into the ballpark at a rate that cover improvement projects at the facility through the first 21 years of its operation.

“If you pencil that out, that’s a lot cheaper than a major remodel or a complete renovation or building a new ballpark every 20 to 25 years,” Jager said.

He compared the stadium’s needs to those of a homeowner who builds a new house, has few major maintenance needs in the early years, but then needs to make improvements over time to keep up the value of the house.

“The difference between most people’s houses and the stadium is you don’t’ have 200,000 to 250,000 people a year crossing your threshold like you do at the stadium,” Jager said.

In the last two years, the City Council has expressed a willingness to invest about $150,000 a year to keep the city’s ballpark in good repair. In 2011, the city spent about $150,000 to fix some of the chronic water drainage issues at the stadium, and in 2012, the city set aside $100,000 to improve the field’s lighting and to help with other projects.

Jager said the city, commission and ballclub will make decisions on how to use the stadium’s capital-improvement fund.

The existing stadium lease agreement, signed by the city, the commission and ballclub, was amended in 2004 to extend the life of the ballclub’s lease through June 30, 2044. As part of the lease, the commission directs money each year to basic stadium maintenance, an amount that equals about $90,000 in the current year, Jager said.

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