By ARTHUR L. MACK
MOBILE — Mobile City Council members are expected to vote next week to authorize an assignment, assumption and amendment of a lease with BallCorps LLC (Hank Aaron Stadium) that would allow the Mobile Sports & Entertainment Group (MSEG) to take over the remaining two years of the stadium’s lease.
BallCorps LLC bought the Southern League Class AA Mobile BayBears affiliate and moved the team to Madison, Ala., outside Hunstville, where the team will be known as the Rocket City Trash Pandas., leaving The Hank without a baseball team.
The vote to approve MSEG to assume the stadium’s remaining lease is expected to take place during the council’s Nov. 19 meeting. City Finance Director Paul Wesch said the current lease is still with BallCorps LLC, and the arrangement, if voted on by the council, will shift responsibility for the lease to MSEG.
Wesch said several key members of MSEG have had experience with Hank Aaron Stadium, especially with the stadium’s structure and the grounds, and added over the next two years the city believes the stadium and the grounds will be in good hands.
“The varying backgrounds of investors will have many good ideas and steps going forward, not only in baseball but in entertainment,” he said.
MSEG hopes to have high school and college baseball games, perhaps involving Bishop State Community College and other local schools, according to MSEG president Ari Rosenbaum.
“I think the community would like something like that,” he said. “We’ve already seen great support from the community in what we’re trying to do. We’re working with media partners in bringing concerts to the stadium — some smaller ones, maybe regional or local acts — plus some major events in the future. I can’t promise anything, but we’ve been working hard for the past two years with the entire operation, so we’re ready to go with these things.
“We’ll have some parking lot events. The stadium has some banquet spaces so we can host weddings, luncheons, corporate picnics, on-field events, things like that.”
City Council President Levon Manzie welcomed the news, saying he was 100 percent positive the experience MSEG brings in managing The Hank could go a long way in making the facility viable again, not to mention providing relief from what some felt was a financial burden on the city.
“I think it is (a pretty good deal),” he said. “It gives the citizens a reprieve from any further expenses for the next two years, and it also gives these individuals with deep experience in baseball and other entertainment an opportunity to keep that stadium vital and active, which is what we all want to see happen.
“I’m looking forward to them having concerts and a variety of entertainment amenities that will draw citizens and tourists down here. They are receptive to input from a wide spectrum of diversified people here in the community, and I’m hopeful that this will be a win-win for everybody.”
During Thursday’s work session, Rosenbaum addressed councilmembers of the group’s intentions, which in addition to managing the stadium, also plans to manage the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum, which is located on the stadium grounds. After the BayBears moved, some memorabilia was returned to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Rosenbaum said the National Baseball Hall of Fame has agreed to work with MSEG on returning some of the Aaron items. April 10 is the anniversary of the opening of the museum and Rosenbaum said the group is planning a big event to mark to re-open the museum. He added Aaron has invited MSEG representatives to Atlanta to pick up more memorabilia to add to the museum.
Annexation was also a topic of Thursday’s meeting. Public Safety Director James Barber provided information to councilmembers as well as members of the media regarding the types of grants he said the city could benefit from if annexation is approved. In a packet that not only outlined the grants affected, but previous attempts at annexation, he noted the Department of Justice ranked Mobile’s police department No. 3 in the country for the COPS Hiring Program (CHP).
“We ranked higher than a lot of large police departments in the country,” Barber said. “Only Kansas City, Mo., and Chicago ranked higher. As far as the SAKI (Sexual Assault Kit Initiative) grant, we were the only city to get it five years in a row.”
Barber said allowing people in areas targeted for annexation into the city is important as far as getting the grants are concerned.
“It’s absolutely critical,” he said. “I can’t think of any other item on the agenda that has the single most impact on the city of Mobile, economically as well as the public safety of the city. We also provided Census Bureau documentation that the boundaries of the city have to be set before Jan. 1, 2020. Those only occur every 10 years.
“We won’t get another shot at this until the year 2030, and so we have to act quickly so that we can allow these people to vote to be annexed into the city. If we are successful, we set those boundaries before Jan. 1, 2020 and we begin that census shortly thereafter.”
Barber said according to the Department of Justice, because Mobile’s population is less than 200,000, it puts it in a small agency category, meaning there is a limited amount of grant accessibility for public safety grants and law enforcement.
“If annexation is successful and if we move over 200,000 in population, we’ll move into the mid-sized agency range, which would be 200,000 to one million in population, which gives us almost twice the ability to get the cops hiring grant,” he said.
Barber said the amount of grant money involved if annexation is successful would be approximately $8.5 million over a three-year period, which includes the police officer hiring grant, body camera grant and the Justice Assistance grant. All of those, he said, are based on population.