Last Sunday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Neal Earley wrote a story with a headline “North Little Rock and Travelers at odds over Dickey-Stephens Park.”
Normally, I wouldn’t directly point this out, but within the story, Earley lays the foundation as to why the two sides are at odds, which ultimately leads to Major League Baseball mandating facility standards for the ballpark located near the Arkansas River.
Some quick backstory on why the MLB is making this demand: in Feb. 2021, the MLB announced it would cut 40 minor league teams, the reorganization of the minor leagues and the requirement of “modernized facility standards” for ballparks.
Thus, Dickey-Stephens Park, which was built in 2007 for $40.4 million to replace aging Ray Winder Field, was deemed in need of upgrades to fit MLB’s standards.
According to Earley’s story, North Little Rock mayor Terry Hartwick is adamant about keeping the team in North Little Rock and has agreed to pay for about $7 million in renovations, but the team wants the city to pay an additional roughly $5 million to upgrade lighting, the clubhouse, batting cages, bathrooms, a new roof and air-conditioning units.
The city will need to make these upgrades to the stadium by 2023, which is the deadline for minor league stadiums, or the MLB may ask the Arkansas Travelers, which operates as a AA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners until 2031, to explore relocation.
Currently, the Travelers have leased the ballpark until 2026, and pay the city $230,000 a year in rent for the park, but that number will drop to $115,000 in 2025 and 2026.
I’m revisiting this article, which has much more detail and I encourage readers to take a look at that article as well, because ADG senior editor Rex Nelson, posted on his Facebook, which was then shared by Conway Corp’s Jeff Matthews, that Nelson is on a board that is trying to keep the Travelers “in this part of the state.”
Nelson mentions the possibility of Saline County, Hot Springs or Conway, which is why I wanted to write this column this week.
Since reading this article and seeing both Matthews’ and Nelson’s posts about this potential change, I’ve been contemplating the idea of the Travelers moving to Conway.
Of course, my main sticking point has been the money part of it.
Now, I haven’t talked with any city officials just yet about this possibility because there’s nothing concrete about it.
Nelson just mentioned the possibility of Conway being a potential destination in the event that the Travelers do seek relocation.
First and foremost, as a baseball fan, I would hate if the Travelers did move out of state.
As a Conway resident, I would not be too enthused to have to drive to Hot Springs to see a Travelers game, though the city has an extensive history of professional baseball.
But, playing the hypothetical game: let’s say the Travelers do decide to relocate and Conway is willing to foot the bill for construction and upkeep of a new stadium.
I know the first thing that may come to reader’s minds is whether a new tax would be voted upon by residents.
If Conway were to do this, and I could be wrong, but one likely funding source could be Advertising and Promotion funds, which is to be used for tourism to Conway, which the current largest draw the city has is baseball and softball tournaments.
But, this is not to discredit the horrific stories we read about ownership for teams demanding new stadiums be built by cities or threatening to relocate.
Which, I want to make clear, the Travelers are not threatening to move. This issue between the Travelers and North Little Rock has been created by the MLB in regards to stadium upkeep.
So, in regards to the construction of a potential Travelers Stadium in Conway, the construction for Dickey-Stephens Park cost $40.4 million as previously stated, which amounts to roughly $55.3 million today, according to officialdata.org.
A new baseball stadium will have the features MLB is demanding, but it could come at a higher cost than that $55.3 million, thus Conway would largely be footing the bill for.
Aside from the money, there is the question of where a stadium could be built.
When I talked about this with my wife, she suggested the property where the old bus factory sits along Dave Ward.
It could be available option as it is close to a major roadway and has easy access to I-40, but I believe there is a more attractive destination.
In his post which contained the Nelson post, Matthews suggested a possible spot for a baseball stadium could be the land where the old airport sat, which is also close to the new aquatic center that will soon be coming to Conway.
Say a member of your family wants to go to a baseball game, but others do not. There are options for many right there. One could go shopping at the Conway Commons across I-40 or hang out at the aquatic center.
The backdrop for a potential stadium won’t be as picturesque as Dickey-Stephens Park, which is a fantastic backdrop to baseball, but it could work in Conway.
Again, this is all hypothetical, and at this time, I have a hard time seeing North Little Rock surrendering the Travelers, but things can happen.