Politics & Government

Wichita moving toward new city ballpark to replace Lawrence-Dumont

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
Lawrence-Dumont Stadium File photo

Wichita is expected to take a small but significant step Tuesday toward building a new baseball park at the site of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

The Wichita City Council is scheduled to set a public hearing in December on a proposal to expand an existing STAR bond redevelopment area along the Arkansas River to take in the stadium site, with an eye toward generating tens of millions of dollars in funding to pay for a new ballpark.

Lawrence-Dumont, 300 S. Sycamore, was built in 1934 and upgraded multiple times since, but player facilities and the overall fan experience still lag behind the industry, Mayor Jeff Longwell said Monday.

A new stadium would follow industry trends and include “just better amenities all the way around,” such as improved locker rooms and more and better skyboxes, Longwell said.

Pitching sensation Roger Clemens delighted the crowd as he pitched for the Kansas Stars in the National Baseball Congress Tournament on Wednesday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. (Video by Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle/Aug. 10, 2016)

The overall vision would be to circle the stadium with “new fan experiences that reach all the way around the stadium,” including a museum dedicated to the National Baseball Congress tournament and players who competed in it before they became stars, he said.

The reality is today’s fans want to be able to gather at a ballpark with their friends and then someone might say ‘Oh, I think there’s a game going on tonight.’

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell

“The reality is today’s fans want to be able to gather at a ballpark with their friends and then someone might say, ‘Oh, I think there’s a game going on tonight,’ ” Longwell said. “It (a new stadium) creates just an atmosphere that welcomes those kinds of gatherings and includes a baseball game.

“They’re not going just for the baseball game anymore, they’re going for the entire experience.”

Lawrence-Dumont is currently the home stadium of the Wichita Wingnuts, an independent minor league team.

Winnipeg defeated the Wingnuts 11-4 on Monday night, Sept. 19, 2016, at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to win the American Association championship. (Jeffrey Lutz / The Wichita Eagle)

City officials have expressed hope that a new stadium might attract a higher-level team affiliated with a Major League Baseball franchise.

The last MLB-affiliated team to play in Wichita was the Wranglers, a Kansas City Royals farm team that left Wichita in 2007 for Springdale, Ark., which opened a new stadium for the 2008 season.

The expanded STAR bond area would also include areas north of the stadium that are slated for a restaurant/bar/entertainment area. City staff is currently evaluating proposals for development of city-owned property adjacent to the new library that’s under construction at the southwest corner of Second and McLean.

STAR bonds, also known as sales tax revenue bonds, allow cities to borrow money to pay for large-scale public improvement projects and then pay the money back from increased sales taxes in the district. Probably the most visible use of STAR bonds in the state is the Kansas Speedway, the Sporting KC soccer stadium and surrounding commercial development in Kansas City, Kan.

The city doesn’t have a firm estimate on what it might cost to build a stadium to replace Lawrence-Dumont. Minor-league stadiums recently built elsewhere have been in the $40 million to $50 million range.

More details of the proposals for a new stadium and other development in the STAR bond area will likely emerge at a Dec. 6 public hearing, Longwell said.

Members of the Kansas Stars, a team consisting of former big leaguers, along with country star Toby Keith, signed autographs for fans outside of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Monday night. Proceeds for tickets sold for the autograph session went towa