By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published October 5, 2022
City, county to look for sites for new stadium
It would become the new home of the AquaSox
Doug Ramsay photo
Everett AquaSox infielder Mike Salvatore points to the left field wall as he circles the bases after hitting a two-run shot 364 feet over the wall in left field to tie the score at 4-4 in the sixth inning of the Sox versus Tri-City Dust Devils game on Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium on Sunday, June 19.
EVERETT — Webbly needs better stomping grounds.
A feasibility study began last week for siting a new multipurpose outdoor stadium in Everett.
And if one gets built, the Everett AquaSox minor league baseball team is committing to a 30-year or longer lease to anchor it.
Stricter facility standards by Major League Baseball is driving the conversation.
There was a revamp for the whole minor league system in 2021 that focused on better professional working conditions. Teams such as the Sox signed agreement licenses to be part of Minor League Baseball. Other teams got shaken out and now play in independent baseball leagues.
"Unfortunately, Funko Field doesn't fit the bill," City Councilman Don Schwab said. The field where the Sox play is owned by the Everett School District and would require vast facility improvements.
The facility requirements include larger home and visiting team spaces, pitching tunnels, security monitoring systems and more, Baseball America magazine reported. Not having separate women's staff locker rooms is "automatic non-compliance" when a 2025 deadline hits, the magazine reported.
These are "significant improvements to the current facility that are not feasible due to a multitude of factors including the school district’s need to use the facility for student-centered programs," Mayor Cassie Franklin said in a statement.
Beyond the Sox, Funko Field is used for high school games and the Everett Community College Trojans.
The City Council and County Council both unanimously voted to jointly authorize the stadium study last week.
Elected leaders say they see opportunities here.
Schwab and other leaders toured a couple of stadiums as part of a fact-finding committee.
What he saw was the stadiums are a huge benefit to the community.
More than baseball would happen here. They're used as community park spaces year-round, Schwab described.
Tammy Dunn, the county's director for sports tourism, went on the tour that looked at relatively new stadiums built for the Kannapolis, North Carolina Cannon Ballers (formerly Intimidators) and the Columbia, South Carolina Fireflies.
These could host conferences and possibly for concerts, as well as the field being opened up to community sports for kids.
"Baseball stadiums are multi-use venues, and a lot more than minor league baseball," Dunn said.
And, a new stadium "could bring us more baseball tournaments because we would have Funko Field and the stadium" to host them, Dunn added.
Major League Baseball took over operating the minor league system in 2020.
The 2021 revamp repositioned the AquaSox's entire league one step up the minor league ladder as the new High-A West league of six teams with a longer season.
"From a player development perspective, the facility standards and improved player working conditions are an important component of the licenses," Mike Teevan, Major League Baseball's vice president of communications, told the Tribune.
The AquaSox are under deadlines to show Major League Baseball progress toward complying with the stadium expectations.
Major League Baseball's media reps wouldn't outline when. A competiting team in the league, the Hillsboro Hops in Oregon, said in documents it has an April 2024 deadline to show progress.
The AquaSox started in 1984. The AquaSox did not reply to an interview request.
How might a stadium be paid for?
Nothing is definitive on who'd pay to build a new stadium, or who would own it and other technical details, and officials say it's too early to talk about those.
The development would not cause additional taxes for it, city economic development director Dan Eernissee told the City Council last week.
It could be a public-private partnership, Eernissee said.
Major League Baseball puts it on the individual team owners to come up with the money to meet the requirements, from presentation materials about a stadium for The Hillsboro Hops.
Most of the AquaSox's rivals are facing the same pressure to make facility improvements to meet the deadlines.
Counties and cities are often helping front the money.
In Oregon, for Eugene's team, its state legislature committed $7.5 million toward a proposed new multi-use facility and its local county's commissioners agreed to using tourism tax dollars collected in hotel room taxes toward the project, The (Eugene) Register-Guard reported. It could cost $54 to $60 million and be the Eugene Emeralds' new home. The team plays at the University of Oregon's ballpark today.
The Hillsboro Hops' home field will be vastly renovated for $40 million that's being fronted by the city of Hillsboro, Oregon itself. The city is putting up $10 million in hotel tax tourism dollars and the team will need to repay a $30 million loan to the city.
And in Spokane, the Spokane Indians are similarly asking Spokane County for a cash infusion of $11 million to improve Avista Stadium.
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