Concerns Over Future of Arkansas Travelers Prompt Controversial Shakeup

by Todd Traub  on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 12:00 am  

Arkansas Travelers President Russ Meeks: “There are a lot of people that have difficulty with change.” (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

Meeks said he is open to taking examples from successful league members like Tulsa, which opened a 7,833-seat stadium in 2010 and hosted last year’s All-Star Game, and the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The Naturals, hosting this year’s game at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, won the 2012 Bob Freitas award for minor league excellence in the Class AA category.

Meeks said current ballpark staff members have reached out to their counterparts at other teams. 2013 will be used as an evaluation year, and whatever changes are made — whether new logos or outside concession services — will be in place by 2014.

“In 2014, our central Arkansas community, Arkansas Travelers and Dickey-Stephens Park will be the host of the Texas League All-Star Game,” Meeks said. “That is of critical focus to us and to me personally, because this is my home and I’m so excited about showing it off.”

‘A Healthy Franchise’

Whatever the makeup of the front office, the Travelers are a healthy organization. The team has operated in the black and is on its way to paying off a significant debt.

Dickey-Stephens Park was funded by a 1 percent sales tax collected in the city of North Little Rock for two years, and the lease agreement between the Travelers and North Little Rock is for 20 years with two five-year options.

No later than March 31 of each year, the Travelers submit its rental calculations — based on a formula Meeks helped negotiate — and its rent payments to the city of North Little Rock Public Building Authority.

Because the approximately $46 million cost of constructing the ballpark was over budget by about $5.5 million, the Travelers have been paying basic rent plus additional rent to offset the overage.

In 2011, the Travelers paid a basic rent of $490,786 and an equal amount in additional rent. That left a balance of $1.26 million that Meeks expects to be retired over the next two years.

The Travelers will then put the additional rent payments into restricted accounts for future use.

“We do not pay dividends. By the same token we do not borrow money,” Meeks said. “So we will leave this organization financially clean and stable for the next generation of leaders that come in behind us.”

The Travelers may be headed toward a more corporate, buttoned-down way of doing things, but observers say if the club makes no major missteps, Meeks’ vision of long-term stability should come to pass.

“It’s a transition and I’m sure it will take them time to find their feet,” Kayser said. “But it certainly is a healthy franchise. I don’t think that is in any dispute whatsoever.”

 

 

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