City leaders are considering major renovations for the 86-year-old city-owned Bowman Field, but it will require adding financing that adds to the city debt and would need approval by City Council.
"She's showing her age," Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said at a recent Bowman Field Commission meeting, where he told the commission and Williamsport Crosscutters management the city already invested $1 million in the stadium and is willing to put in more.
"It's one of our city assets - a jewel," Campana said.
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
A “Pack the Park” crowd watches the Crosscutters play ball at Bowman Field in August 2009. Renovations are planned at the stadium.
The plan Campana proposed is to invest $500,000 to help improve the stadium that is home to the Crosscutters, an minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies that has a lease agreement with the city. The agreement was extended in November until 2014, according to Doug Estes, vice president of the ball club.
Council will be asked to authorize use of a $2 million line of credit to make the improvements, most of them structure related, Campana said.
Paint is flaking off the grandstand, a chainlink fence in the outfield is rusted and a safety hazard, and the concourse along third base is small and gets congested, he said.
That's not the image the Phillies' affiliate or minor league baseball and other potential tenants of the stadium desire, he said.
Meanwhile, the Crosscutters also have a vision for the stadium - one that involves removing bleachers on the right field side.
"We can seat 3,600 comfortably, but we average 1,800 to 2,000 a game," Estes said. "Our thought process is to do some other kind of decking or indoor/outdoor spaces that could serve multiple functions."
Fans of minor league baseball games then could stand with a beer in hand, or eat a meal, he said.
"A picnic deck built 10 years ago has been successful," he said. "That's where the industry is going as far as different types of seating, with all-you-can-eat areas, and ability to stand on high tables and order at bars while watching the games."
Campana said he has reservations about removing bleachers because he wants to see the facility used for music concerts, political rallies and family-oriented shows.
"Once you remove them, they are gone," Campana said. "I'm not sure that is the best use and way to make the facility multi-purpose."
"Most of the stages for concerts are set up at second base," Estes said. That means the line of sight for people sitting on the bleachers along right field would be compromised.
"We're a small staff and not concert promoters," Estes said. "It's challenging for us to bring in bigger events, but if we're able to partner with other organizations that want to do that, we're open to that. We know how to sell tickets, run stadium operations and we are willing to partner with folks such as USA Softball Team, a successful event in 2008."
Gabe Sinicropi, vice president of marketing for the Crosscutters, said less seating is a step in the right direction because the facility isn't going to be a place that averages 2,700 to 3,000 fans per game.
"We're lucky there is a viable team because professional baseball passed by many cities our size," Sinicropi said. "We're on the lower echelon of population in our league." Among teams are those from Brooklyn and Staten Island, N.Y.
Asked Thursday whether financing was possible, city Finance Director William E. Nichols Jr. said it has worked before on projects.
"Council has approved up to $6 million for prior capital projects," Nichols said.
"Council is aware of the administration's plans to restructure outstanding debts to take advantage of the current low interest rates," said Councilman Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the city finance committee.
"I believe we were clear at the budget season that while approving Campana's budget, in large part, council reserves the right to review and approve any or all parts of the financing package, in particular any that would require additional debt," he said.
Council is expected to review the refinancing package in March, Nichols said.