Even as the Bowling Green Hot Rods baseball team prepared for this week's high-stakes High A East championship series, team management was making plans for a project that involves even higher stakes.
As part of a deal to keep the Hot Rods in Bowling Green for the next decade, the Warren County Downtown Economic Development Authority has issued through Warren Fiscal Court $5.4 million in bonds that includes re-financing of upgrades already made and some $3 million worth of new improvements to the ballpark.
“It’s all driven by Major League Baseball,” said Doug Gorman, the EDA’s chairman.
What local baseball fans will notice is that the Tampa Bay Rays-affiliated team that landed in Bowling Green in 2009 as the centerpiece of the downtown Tax Increment Financing district is still playing while many other small-market minor league stadiums have been silenced.
As part of its revamping of the minor leagues, MLB last year cut 43 teams as it trimmed the number of affiliated clubs to 120 and left cities such as Lexington and Jackson, Tenn., without professional baseball.
Such a fate for Bowling Green would have been disastrous, Gorman said.
“Having a dark stadium would’ve been an obstacle too big to overcome,” he said. “The Hot Rods provide great family-oriented activities, and they’re an engine that keeps a lot of things going downtown.”
Gorman admits to being “very concerned” initially about MLB’s downsizing of its minor league system, but he said the planned upgrades to the EDA-owned Bowling Green Ballpark will improve the experience for players and fans.
The largest expense involved in the ballpark improvements is installation of LED lights for the field.
“That will cost about $700,000,” Gorman said, “but it will save us a ton on utilities.”
Other upgrades are mostly geared to the players, coaches and umpires.
They include expanding the visiting team’s clubhouse and offices for coaches and managers of both teams, along with adding better training rooms for both teams and locker rooms for female umpires.
“Major League Baseball says that whatever you have for the home team, you have to have the same for the visitors,” Gorman said.
These improvements come on the heels of other upgrades, including a new playing field installed five years ago and a state-of-the-art video scoreboard, that made Bowling Green attractive to the Rays and to MLB.
“The Tampa Bay Rays love this town, and the facility is in good shape,” Gorman said.
The EDA should be in good shape to pay off the bonds, Gorman said.
He said $3.8 million in payroll and sales tax revenue was returned from the state to the TIF district for 2019. He expects a slight drop in 2020 payments, which should be coming in October, but he’s optimistic that 2021 revenue will reflect a bounce-back from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re hoping that the 2021 calendar year will be our first year with revenue over $4 million from the state,” he said.
Not all the ballpark upgrades are geared solely to the benefit of players and coaches.
Gorman pointed out that sections 119, 120 and 121 will get new, larger seats and food-and-drink rails.
The outfield “Bud Zone” will be transformed as well. It will have a roof structure as well as a bar and food area.
Gorman hopes to see work begin shortly after the end of the playoffs.
“It’s a pretty big upgrade,” he said. “We signed a 10-year contract with the Rays and Major League Baseball that says the upgrades have to be completed by the start of the 2023 season, but we’re trying to get as much done as possible before the first pitch next year.”
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