When the Southern League baseball season begins next April, there probably will not be a team in Biloxi as was originally proposed. Instead, it probably will be in town by April 2015 – but there’s an outside chance it could be on the coast as early as next summer.
“We’re close to closing the window on the 2014 season,” said Tim Bennett, head of Overtime Sports, which is attempting to build a stadium in Biloxi that will be home to a new Double-A baseball team. “It’s getting to the point where we may have to look at 2015, or try to start the season in another city and move it to Biloxi at mid-season next year.”
But the project remains alive.
“This delay will not jeopardize the project,” he said. “We’ve still got some lease negotiations to finish. We hope to have all that wrapped up by the middle of August.”
The Southern League breaks its season into two 71-game races, essentially starting a new pennant race in late June, which is when a move to the Gulf Coast is being considered. At the end of the year, the two division winners from each half participate in the Southern League playoffs.
The $36-million stadium project is being funded by a $21-million bond issue by the City of Biloxi and Gov. Phil Bryant’s $15-million grant that will come from the BP oil spill settlement. The land for the stadium will be leased from the Beau Rivage Casino for $1 a year. The site is across the street from the casino on U.S. 90, tucked next to Interstate 110.
The city has issued the bonds, and bids have been sought, but the bonds have not yet been sold. Lease negotiations are still under way and must still be approved by the city council.
The general obligation bonds will be paid back from stadium project revenues. The stadium will host at least 70 minor league games a summer and will be available for other events such as concerts and college baseball games. The Gulf Coast Business Council’s research foundation estimates the stadium development will spur an additional $10 million annually in visitor spending on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The 7,000-seat stadium will include a parking garage and an over-the-highway walkway to the Beau Rivage parking garage. Future developments include a hotel overlooking the field on the north side, along with various entertainment and food venues.
When the project was announced in the spring, the expectation was that stadium would be built by the start of the 2014 season in April. But as negotiations continued, that April start seemed more and more unlikely. It’s now eight months until the season starts and no work has begun on the site, which is currently a parking lot for Beau Rivage employees. By comparison, it took 11 months to build Trustmark in Pearl, but that project required more prep work.
So what team will be moving to Biloxi? Bennett would not say. “I really can’t answer that question,” he said. “I have to be very careful about what I say about that right now.”
He would not say if the team has been completely secured or if negotiations are still under way. Ken Young, a former minor league executive of the year and owner of four minor league baseball franchises, has been assigned the task of finding an existing minor league team and relocating it to Biloxi.
The Southern League consists of 10 teams: The Mississippi Braves in Pearl; Jacksonville and Pensacola in Florida; Mobile, Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville in Alabama; and Jackson, Chattanooga and Knoxville in Tennessee. Of those teams, most consider the Huntsville Stars, a farm team of the Milwaukee Brewers, to be the frontrunner. Jackson, Tenn., is also mentioned as a candidate.
The Southern League schedule for 2014 has been set and sent to the league’s 10 farm directors for approval, the MBJ has learned. A team in Biloxi is not in that schedule.
With the exception of the Atlanta Braves, most Major League teams don’t own the minor league team. They simply work out player development contracts with minor league team owners. Those arrangements can change year by year and usually are settled by late September.
“I think we’ll have something worked out in the next couple of weeks,” said Bennett.