Future Home for Triple-A Baseball in San Antonio Remains Unsettled

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Fans react as Shortstop Luis Uruias brings in an RBI against the Midland Rockhounds.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Missions fans cheer as shortstop Luis Uruias drives in a run against the Midland Rockhounds in 2017.

Owners of the San Antonio Missions baseball club would like a new stadium as they make the jump next year to Triple-A, the highest level of minor league baseball.

While the team has met privately with Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who opposes funding such a project with public money, the Missions have not publicly discussed their plans. Estimates for constructing a stadium start at $75 million.

Nirenberg has challenged the club and its longtime owner Dave Elmore to bring forth a proposal for the City to review. Missions President Burl Yarbrough has said the team is working to do so, but the team has been reluctant to say anything beyond that. Elmore and his son, D.G. Elmore, did not respond to the Rivard Report‘s requests for comment.

Branch Rickey, president of the Pacific Coast League, the league to which the Missions are moving next season, has seen more than a dozen stadiums built or undergo major renovations since he was hired in 1998. He said he is confident San Antonio will find a home for the Triple-A team.

“In my experience with many previous stadiums, the challenge initially looks daunting, but when a funding model is agreed to and the stadium is completed, the impact on the community and surrounding area begins to take shape,” Rickey said. “Often the reaction from municipal leadership is euphoria. The problem is, you can’t time-travel.”

The Elmore Sports Group (ESG), which owns the Missions and several other minor league baseball teams, is moving the current version of the Missions, which competes at the Double-A level, to Amarillo after this season. ESG is moving the Colorado Springs Sky Sox to San Antonio where they will take the Missions name and compete in the PCL.

Elmore has said from the beginning of the process that a new stadium is an integral part of his plan to transition the Missions and San Antonio to Triple-A. Some have suggested that the club’s current home, Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium, could be upgraded, but the stadium’s location on the city’s Southwest Side is seen by some as problematic because it’s not more centrally located.

City Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), in whose district Wolff Stadium is located, believes it’s time for a more open dialogue on the subject with more voices and ideas being heard. Brockhouse said he would like for City Council to be involved in discussions with the team instead of those talks being held behind closed doors solely with the mayor and his team.

Nirenberg opposes any public funding for a stadium, including incentives that have been used by multiple developers and private businesses for a variety of projects around downtown in recent years. In an interview, the mayor said most of the City incentive programs are aimed at developing housing in and near the urban core.

“There is a big difference in a taxpayer subsidy of a private minor league baseball stadiumand housing development that mostly comes from non-monetary incentives,” Nirenberg said. “There is a stark difference between that kind of incentivized development in both scale and purpose.”

However, the City has also given incentives for projects such as Credit Human’s new 10-story headquarters, which received a total of $8.8 million in County and City tax breaks.

Brockhouse said he, too, believes asking taxpayers to foot the bill for a stadium for the Missions is a nonstarter. But he is more open to examining what might help get the ball rolling for a downtown stadium in terms of incentives offered to the club or a third-party developer.

“If we’re willing to give millions of dollars in tax incentives for a credit union or a bank to move two miles, an organization that has profitability of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Brockhouse said, “why wouldn’t we examine the opportunity for the Missions to have something similar? What tools do we have in place where we can get creative on incentives and financing to help out? The City controls a lot of those taxing entities.

“All of those things are part of the conversation. Frankly, I just want to figure out what things can be in place. We’ve got to at least have a conversation.”

Some possible funding sources could come in the form of fees or tourism taxes such as events admissions fees, and hotel occupancy, car rental, parking, and restaurant taxes. Selling stadium naming rights also could help offset at least a portion of the construction cost.

Brockhouse said the City owes it to the Missions to put forth a good-faith effort to work toward a downtown stadium because the ball club has partnered with the City for decades. The Missions are a charter member of the Texas League dating back to the late-1800s, and the team and its previous iterations have called San Antonio home, with only a few brief interruptions, for nearly 130 years.

“If we don’t take care of people who have taken care of us over the years, what do we have incentives for?” said Brockhouse, who is a frequent critic of the mayor.

The idea for a downtown stadium has long been discussed in San Antonio because downtown stadiums are generally preferred to stadiums located outside the urban core. Even Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, for whom the Missions’ ballpark is named, said he believes the best solution for the ball club, the City, and the County long-term is a new stadium located in or near downtown.

“I think the best idea would be if they could get it downtown, but it’s very, very hard to do,” Wolff said. “They’ve been working on it for over a year, and they haven’t found the right place for it. So it’s very hard to do, but I do think that is the best solution. It’s not easy and it’s very expensive. So hopefully they can find something that will work. It would be better to be downtown.”

In the meantime, Wolff believes the 24-year-old stadium that bears his name could serve as an adequate placeholder or even a long-term solution with major renovations that would add seats, suites, and other amenities to bring it more in line with other PCL facilities, such as Dell Diamond in Round Rock and Southwest University Park in El Paso.

Wolff Stadium has 6,200 fixed seats and a grass berm beyond the left and centerfield wall that could serve an additional 3,000 fans.

A downtown stadium seemed to have momentum several years ago when former Mayor Ivy Taylor threw her support behind the idea. Taylor met with Elmore, who made it clear the team would not pay for the stadium but might play a part in some level of investment.

“What typically happens is the team does invest money in part of the facilities,” Elmore said at the time. “It could be in concessions, it could be signage, it’s just usually a variety of alternative ways that the team gets involved [financially].”

The stadium lost momentum near the end of Taylor’s term as mayor when it became clear there was a lack of interest from private partners.

A 2016 feasibility study done by Barrett Sports Group for the City recommended building a stadium with 8,000 to 8,500 fixed seats and a total capacity of between 9,000 and 9,500, which would include standing-room-only and berm seating. The study noted that, at that time, the Missions had the lowest average attendance in the Texas League over the previous five seasons.

Fans line up during 'Dollar Night' featuring one dollar beer, soda, and hot dogs.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Missions fans line up during dollar night featuring $1 beer, soda, and hot dogs.

The study noted seven possible sites for a stadium in or near downtown. At least one of them is likely no longer a possibility, with San Antonio Independent School District moving to build a new central office adjacent to Fox Tech High School’s campus.

The Fox Tech site was considered a Tier 3 site in the 2016 baseball feasibility study, which grouped possible locations according to their suitability, with Tier 1 being the most suitable.

When he met with Taylor in 2016, Elmore made it clear in media interviews that a new stadium was central to his bringing Triple-A baseball to the city.

With the idea of a downtown stadium in limbo two years later, Nirenberg said he does not believe San Antonio is in jeopardy of losing its longtime baseball partner in the future if the issue continues to drag on without resolution.

“The Missions still receive tremendous fan and city support,” Nirenberg said. “We’ll continue to do that. We’re actively interested in their future here. So, no, that’s not a concern.”

Wolff also isn’t losing sleep at night over the idea.

‘We will be the largest Triple-A franchise in the nation, from a media market and overall market,” Wolff said. “So, he could pull the franchise out and go somewhere else. He could do that, but then this market would be open for a team. I don’t think that is likely, but you never know.”

Brockhouse said he does believe it’s at least a possibility that the team will eventually leave without a new stadium. He’d like to see the matter pursued more actively by the mayor and City Council.

“If the Missions can find a home here, by all means – they’ve made it very clear they would love to be here,” he said. “San Antonio would love to have them here. … If it came to it, and it didn’t work out, and the Missions had to leave, and we couldn’t get Triple-A baseball here … I would respect the Missions to have to do what is best for them. In business, that’s the fair play, but you’ve got to give it your best shot. …

“Not getting in the fight, not giving it a shot, not trying to get creative is not acceptable. We’ve seen that on multiple things that come through this council. We don’t get in the fight on things, and we’re missing opportunities right and left.”

15 thoughts on “Future Home for Triple-A Baseball in San Antonio Remains Unsettled

  1. Stop wasting tax dollars on the rich to make more money on a new stadium. If they own it, they should pay for it. Follow California’s model

  2. The plans for the new Frost Bank building involved multiple parties and worked to the advantage of each. Has anyone talked to the Guenthers to see if a somewhat similar plan could be worked out to involve their property on S. Alamo where the Pioneer Flour Mill is located? Every time I pass that property I think about how it is likely for flour production (and the big truck traffic) to eventually move to a suburban industrial location and the old buildings (including the grain silos–check out what happened with the Carlsberg complex in Copenhagen) to be redeveloped into housing (or most likely a mixed-use project). It looks as if the parking area on the back of their land along Alamo Street is big enough to develop a baseball stadium. So maybe the city could swap a huge piece of land for a new flour mill somewhere for a small piece of their property for the baseball stadium, lease the new piece of land to the owner of the baseball team at a token rate, use tourism taxes to assist in building a new stadium (while expecting the owner of the team to handle a large portion of it who would gain back his money eventually from nearby residents who would dine at establishments open daily on stadium grounds even on non-baseball nights) while the Guenthers could work with a developer to plan to redevelop their downtown property to their advantage.

  3. I agree with Fred on this. We shouldn’t waste any tax dollars on risky investments like sports arenas. Would any one tell me how much we already lost on the Alamodome? … Ridiculous!

  4. This entire AAA thing is to get more tax money in Elmore’s pocket. His tax abatement is running out, and he wants another free ride.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with Woolf Stadium. It could easily be expanded — although I’d bet that the average AAA team’s average attendence is below the capacity off the Woolf. This “not centrally located” stuff is just their way of saying “it’s surrounded by Latinos” — something which has never bothered me.
    Finally, AA is where teams put their highest draft choices. You have a much better chance of seeing future major league talent here than in El Paso.

  5. I find it hard to believe that uninformed people still spread the lie that the Alamodome has caused the city to loose money. If you will remember, the city did not have to sell bonds to finance it with interest costs for 30 yrs. It was paid for through a 1 cent tax and was paid for by the time construction was complete. Think of the savings on interest alone.

    • The Alamodome was a great investment. I long ago gave up on the NFL. Too many greedy owners always wanting more from host cities and moving teams when they don’t get what they want.
      San Antonio is much better off without an NFL team.
      Even though the Alamodome doesn’t have an NFL team, I am certain the stadium has been a positive investment for the City. We hosted the NCAA Final Four only a few months ago and were recently awarded another Final Four. The economic impact of those events alone is tremendous.
      While a downtown baseball stadium will not have that same impact, it will be a lot cheaper to build and will spur development of the surrounding area. Unlike soccer which only has 12 home games a year, MILB baseball has around 75 home games a year.

      • Alamodome is a total waste. It did cost $183M to build in 1993. We just spent $60M for the recent upgrades. Imagine all the maintenance and prep costs in between. What we got in return?
        Monster truck shows, few concerts, and couple of football tournaments. No wonder team owners want new stadiums. We are spending money like dumb and dumber.

  6. I’ve been as Missions fan since they played at B.J.Keefe field at St. Mary’s–a funky place for an AA team. As I recall, there was a lot of opposition to building a stand-alone ball for them, and without Nelson Wolff’s advocacy, it might not have happened. I’m so glad we’re moving up to AAA. For years, we’ve been making the trek to “The Wolff,” and I’ll keep doing it if I have to. But baseball is such a great family sport, and I think that if the new ballpark were closer to the center, more people would attend (“If You Build, They Will Come”). I’ve been to Cardinals games right downtown in St. Louis and not only the game, but the atmosphere is wonderful. So is Camden Yards in Baltimore and Citifield in New York. Now that MLS–and all the expenses it would entail to build a soccer stadium– has gone by the boards, why not AAA ball?–And we already have the team!

  7. If you research the tax breaks the city and county provde to a number of developers and businesses you will see the stadium provides far more benefit for the community than most.

    Here is where your tax dollars are going…

    https://news4sanantonio.com/news/trouble-shooters/city-gives-developers-millions-in-incentives-without-requiring-affordable-housing

    You could have built a few stadiums with this and what did we get instead? Some very expensive apartments that benefit whom? Now I am not oppposed to using incentives to spur growth, my point is the stadium is no different than tax breaks for housing or commercial buildings, which seem to go unnoticed by the public, but mention a sports venue and opposition emerges.

    And why didn’t anyone get upset about the Alamo Brewery deal? Sell the land for $300k but give $800k in incentives? This was public land!

    https://www.expressnews.com/real-estate/article/Alamo-Beer-cleared-to-purchase-controversial-lot-5936229.php

    • There is no way you can build a stadium for $93M (amount of incentives for downtown area development according to the link above) in downtown area. VIA’s most recent park and ride did cost more than $28M just for 377 cars just to make a comparison. On the other hand, I agree that we missed the opportunity to require some affordable housing for all that money.
      But I still think the return of incentivized downtown development is greater than the one from the Alamodome. People who live in and around that area has economic impact for 24/7/365. The tourists’ (coming to the Alamodome) contributions are very limited for time period and and quality-wise for the local economy.

  8. Now that the Brewers are bringing AAA baseball to San Antonio, this needs to be front burner. We have two years to do this.

    Downtown is the obvious choice for several reasons.

    First, it’s centrally located to the city and has easy access. IH 37/Hwy 281 North/South, IH 35 NE/SE, IH 10/Hwy 90 East/West all converge in the downtown loop. Also, there are also loads and loads of EMPTY (really…. I mean Empty) VIA busses going to and fro all of the time!

    Second, what do people do when a Missions game is over at Wolff Stadium? Answer: They get in their cars go home! Same with the AT&T Center, they go home.

    What would people do if it were do if it were downtown? Many of them would either start out at a downtown restaurant or bar before the game and/or end up at one after the game. That’s tax money that would be lost if the venue were to stay at Nelson Wolff.

    My two choices for the venue would at the St. Paul’s Square/Alamo Depot area at Cherry and Commerce where the RK Group is located and has an “Available” sign on it or at the location currently being occupied by the Institute of Texan Culture which is being moved out to UTSA I believe. With one of those two locations, the parking lot of the Alamo Dome could serve both itself and the new baseball stadium.

    I’d love season tickets to a downtown located San Antonio Missions AAA team. That’s my long winded opinion. 🙂

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