The Mobile City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to pay more than $22,000 on design and engineering for proposed drainage repairs to the field at Hank Aaron Stadium, but not before one councilor reported what he called a rumor about the facility’s tenant, the Mobile BayBears, being sold.
During a discussion on the resolution to authorize a $22,205 contract with engineering firm Hutchison, Moore & Rauch at the council’s pre-conference meeting, Councilman John Williams said he heard the Southern League team had been sold and would be leaving following next season. Williams later, at the regular meeting, called the rumors untrue after reportedly hearing from BayBears General Manager Chris Morgan.
In an email message shortly after Williams brought up the so-called rumor, Morgan called it “absolute fiction.”
Late in 2014, Morgan received a letter from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the BayBears’ Major League affiliate, requesting several upgrades to the 20-year-old stadium. Among those were upgrades to the “antiquated” drainage system.
While the design contract is listed at $22,205, the city expects to spend 10 times that to fix the field drainage, which along with seating replacement are the final improvements needed before the stadium is officially in compliance with Major League Baseball, according to Kim Harden, director of the city’s architectural engineering department.
Several councilors, including Williams, had concerns about spending that amount of money on the stadium, especially if the team would be moving on soon.
Only Councilwoman Bess Rich voted against the contract during the regular meeting. Chief among Rich’s concerns was the back rent owed by the BayBears on the stadium lease.
While Paul Wesch, the city’s executive director of finance, said the club had made its last two quarterly installments, it has yet to begin paying off the large sum it owes in rent.
“I’ve had a lot of concerns over the amount of capital spent on the BayBears,” Rich said during the regular meeting. “They’ve made two $25,000 payments toward a lease agreement.”
During the regular meeting, Williams voted to award the contract and defended the BayBears’ return on investment, especially when compared to the city’s various senior centers. He said the return on investment for the senior centers “pales in comparison” to that of the BayBears and Hank Aaron Stadium.
“We must understand the importance of the BayBears and the stadium,” Williams said. “They provide for thousands of young people to watch America’s pastime. We must make every effort to keep the BayBears here … ”
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the city is responsible for upkeep on the stadium, whether a team leases it or not. City attorney Ricardo Woods said he hadn’t heard of the club’s sale, but told councilors the BayBears would begin paying back rent once the stadium is in compliance with MLB guidelines.
Gulf Coast Ducks
The council also christened a new amphibious tour of Mobile, approving a lease agreement to allow Gulf Coast Ducks LLC to build a specialty boat launch near the Arthur Outlaw Convention Center.
The company will pay rent for the property, and the city will reimburse it up to $80,000 through a tax increment financing (TIF) deal. The city will also use the launch for Mobile Fire-Rescue Department boats.
The launch will allow Gulf Coast Ducks to offer a full 70-minute tour, beginning at the USS Alabama and winding through downtown Mobile, the Mobile River and Mobile Bay, co-owner Scott Tindle said. Initially, 45-minute tours focusing on the river and bay may start as soon as next week.
The tours will launch from the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, Tindle said, and the company hopes to attract some of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the battleship each year.
Rich said she hoped the city would be able to offer similar deals to trolley tours, which have already been operating in the city.
“I know many are excited to have this venue in our town,” Rich said. “… It means we’re moving up in the world to have them here. I hope the city works with other tour owners too … to help promote them.”
Williams said the duck boats are unique and the incentive offered is different because it’s not being used to help them begin operation. Instead, it allows them to show off the downtown area to tourists who might not normally get to see it.
When the proposal was discussed last week, Councilman Fred Richardson asked administration officials to come up with a way to allow people to fish on city property and had concerns about providing resources for a boat launch the public couldn’t use. This week, however, he voted in favor of the proposal, but asked that a portion of the African-American Heritage Trail be added to the routes.
New dog parks
A day after ground was broken for a new dog park at Crawford-Murphy Park, the council voted unanimously to name it in honor of one of its biggest advocates, the late Danielle Juzan. Following the vote, Councilman Levon Manzie said he received an email from Juzan asking about the progress of the park the night before the actor, playwright, columnist and blogger died.
The new dog park will be fenced in and feature benches, trash receptacles and dog drinking fountains, according to a statement from Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office.
The council will soon take up a vote on funding for a Midtown dog park at Public Safety Memorial Park. The item, which would pay S.C. Stagner Contracting Inc. $87,550 for work on the park, appeared on the agenda but was held over one week in accordance with council rules.
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