Location will be key to Biloxi baseball success
It’s a 10-mile drive every morning from my suburban home to the MBJ office in downtown Jackson. On a good day, it takes no more than 20 minutes. On a bad day, well…
Along the way, there are obstacles — road construction, potholes, railroad tracks that are sometimes occupied, distracting tailgaters and cars. And more cars. And trucks. Small trucks. Big trucks. And more big trucks.
It’s called traffic — a word we all hate. Lots and lots of traffic.
But along that same route, there’s a convenient market for a quick stop if needed. There are fast food restaurants — and slow food restaurants. There are gas stations, and there’s a quick pharmacy drive-through for medical needs.
But there’s no Wal-Mart, no Best Buy and no Belk along my route — simplistically, because there’s not enough traffic.
So, despite the dread, traffic is vital in terms of economic growth and consumer amenities. If someone built a big box store along my route the traffic might increase — or the business might fail.
Naysayers in Biloxi don’t seem to understand that sometimes a little traffic is worthwhile to drive economic success.
The 20-year fight to bring a minor league baseball team to the Gulf Coast is on the verge of becoming reality. The City Council has stepped up to the plate with plans to borrow $21 million and the state is pitching in another $15 million. Beau Rivage casino is essentially donating land — a parcel on U.S. 90 directly across the street from the casino’s parking garage. But before baseball can be played next April, there are still hearings to be heard, council votes to be counted and teams to be bought and moved. Oh yeah, and a stadium to be built.
Then, the cry comes from the populous — it will create too much traffic along the busy coast highway in east Biloxi — let’s move it somewhere else. Amid that outcry (and the concern that the stadium will be built on land leased annually for $1 from the casino) there are offers to relocate the stadium.
Earlier this week, Coast businessman W.C. “Cotton” Fore renewed his offer of 10 acres in east Biloxi for an alternative. The suggested location is in an area off 5th Street near the new Margaritaville casino. A previous attempt to move the stadium to city-owned land next to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art drew opposition because it is a velocity zone (natural hurricane barrier) and may have remains of American Indians on the property.
Yes, building a stadium at the junction of I-110 and U.S. 90 could create traffic issues, especially if there’s a Saturday afternoon game or a weekday game that happens to end as rush-hour hits. But those events are rare. Besides, most traffic spikes will last no more than 30 minutes and most will be around the 10 o’clock hour at night when games end. Plus, it happens only 70 times a year. Currently, 2,400 Beau Rivage employees change shifts in that lot three times a day — every day — so traffic might actually decrease.
But the advantage of this traffic jam is foot traffic. There are amenities in place now that will draw traffic from the baseball park — a couple of casinos, restaurants, lodging — and those will all add to the fortune of the baseball team. The more baseball is successful, the more it will drive the non-casino growth in the shadow of Biloxi’s largest casino. The more the area develops, the more likely the baseball team prospers and succeeds.
Before Biloxi moves its site away from a high-traffic area, it should look at other Southern League venues.
The Jackson, Tenn., franchise is still trying to develop the area around its 15-year-old stadium on the outskirts of town. The Generals are a constant source of relocation rumors and last in the league in average attendance, drawing about 1,760 per game.
Huntsville, Ala., another team rumored to be a relocation prospect, has a downtown stadium, but with little entertainment development directly around it. Most of the specialty businesses around it are closed when games are over. Huntsville, with the oldest stadium in the league, averages about 2,000 per game.
Even the Mississippi Braves in Pearl are sixth in average attendance in a suburban Jackson market. Its location is helped by the existence of shopping areas and restaurants.
Montgomery is thriving in its downtown stadium, averaging more than 4,000 per game. Birmingham, still enjoying the fruits of its new downtown palace … uh, stadium … leads the league with 5,600 per game.
Economically, the best location for a new baseball stadium is the proposed site on U.S. 90. It will be visible to both locals and tourist. And since two-thirds of the 14 million gamblers on the Gulf Coast are from out of state, the stadium provides another tourism attraction — and more dollars into the pockets of Biloxi businesses. Building the stadium in an out-of-way location will make it just that — out of the way and out of sight.
To be quickly followed by — out of mind.
Staff writer Frank Brown is a baseball fan who covers gaming for the Mississippi Business Journal.
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