Wichita could be within a couple months of landing a Major League affiliated baseball team to occupy a planned new ball park at the site of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, Mayor Jeff Longwell said Thursday.
But a rumored big reveal of a new team didn’t come Thursday.
“There’s a thousand things that can kill a deal to bring a new team to town and there’s only one way to make it happen,” Longwell said. “If we were to name the team today, we would jeopardize the process.”
Longwell said the city is close to a deal and it could be finalized shortly after MLB’s Winter Meetings, which begin next week.
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“We’ve met with the team owner.” Longwell said. “They’ve visited Wichita. They like what they see in our community.
“We sat just a week ago on the 18th floor across the river at the Hyatt and looked out over that whole (Arkansas) river compound and we started dreaming about what we can build and what we want to do and what they want to have for their team.”
Many of those attending the speech at the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon had expected the mayor to definitively announce that affiliated baseball was returning to Wichita after a 10-year absence.
Longwell was apologetic, joking that his mother may still love him.
“What I will tell you is the process is getting closer all the time,” Longwell said. “I appreciate your patience, and I appreciate the support we’re getting from all of you.”
Longwell said it’s been an arduous process to get this far.
“We certainly had to go to Major League Baseball just to get permission to talk to this team,” Longwell said. “And you only talk to one team at a time. And before it’s all done, Major League Baseball is going to have to sign off on this deal.”
The city has been without an MLB farm team since the Wranglers, a Kansas City Royals affiliate, left Wichita for Arkansas in 2007.
The Wingnuts, the current tenant team at Lawrence-Dumont, are part of an independent league not affiliated with a major-league franchise.
Bringing affiliated baseball back is crucial to unlocking about $40 million in STAR bond funding that would be used to pay most of the cost of a new stadium, Longwell said.
STAR bonds allow a city to borrow money to build an improvement and then pay it back from the future sales taxes generated by the project.
“Not very many communities get that opportunity,” Longwell said. “But to take advantage of that, we have to bring affiliated baseball back to Wichita. That’s the one caveat.”
He also said that the business community is stepping up to help sponsor a future team.
“I have been approached by a multitude of companies that said: ‘You get that affiliated baseball team here and we want to be a part of that,’” Longwell said.
He said some companies are interested in buying the naming rights to the planned stadium and baseball diamond, while others are interested in leasing luxury suites once a team is in place.
After the luncheon, Longwell said the city has abandoned the option of renovating the existing stadium. He said because of structural deficiencies, the city will have to tear down and start over.
It would take the city about 18 months to build a new stadium, so the earliest a new team could take the field would be 2020, he said.