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Travelers, North Little Rock Reach Ballpark Deal

3 min read

The Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball team and the city of North Little Rock announced Tuesday that they have reached an agreement for the team to play at a new stadium in the city’s riverfront district.

North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays and Travelers General Manager Bill Valentine announced the deal at a news conference on the site of the new stadium, land purchased by Little Rock financier Warren Stephens and donated for the project.

The deal must now be approved by the North Little Rock City Council and North Little Rock city voters. Hays has proposed a 2-year temporary 1 percent city sales tax to raise $32 million to pay for the new stadium. Part of those proceeds would also go toward improvements at the city’s senior center.

The main points of the agreement:

• The Travelers would have a 20-year lease on the stadium with two successive five-year options to be exercised at the team’s discretion.

• The city of North Little Rock would own on the ballpark.

• Travelers would pay rent on the facility equal to 50 percent of the amount by which operating revenues exceed operating expenses.

• The Travelers would maintain the facility.

The city council will meet Tuesday night to vote on the deal and set a special election for Aug. 9.

Assuming the council and voters support the plan, Hays said he expects the stadium to be ready for the Travelers on Opening Day in 2007.

Both parties had expected to announce an agreement on Monday, but a news conference scheduled for Monday afternoon was canceled when negotiations dragged on.

“You know good things come to those who wait – and to be honest I didn’t think I’d have to wait an extra day,” Hays joked a Tuesday’s news conference. Hays said the parties were “tuggin’ here and there a time or two,” but that the negotiations ultimately resulted in a better deal for both sides.

Attending the announcement Tuesday were Bill Stoneman, general manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the major league baseball team affiliated with the Travelers; Tom Kayser, president of the Texas League; and Frank Thomas of Stephens Inc. and the Arkansas Travelers board.

“I can’t tell you excited I am to have another crown jewel on the horizon,” Kayser said.

HKS of Dallas is the project’s architect. The firm has worked on a host of sports venues, including the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Ameriquest Field in Arlington, Texas, and Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wis.

East-Harding Inc. of Little Rock is partnering with Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Aurora Colo., on the project. Hensel Phelps was a program manager for the William J. Clinton Foundation in overseeing the development of the Clinton Presidential Library.

Van Tilbury, East-Harding’s vice president for business development, said the groups performed some tasks in planning the stadium for free, including budgeting and scheduling the project. He said he was optimistic the city and firms could meet the 2007 deadline for play.

The Travelers tentatively agreed to move to the new location in October. Stephens and North Little Rock envisioned a 22-acre complex including the stadium and retail developments. The site, which sits near the Arkansas River and east of the Broadway Bridge near downtown North Little Rock, was also considered as possible sites for Alltel Arena and the Clinton Presidential Library.

Since Stephens and North Little Rock announced their intentions, the city of Little Rock has been debating the fate of Ray Winder Field, where the Travelers have played baseball for more than 70 years, as well as working on a proposal for the Travelers for future of the midtown park should the North Little Rock plan fail.

More on the Stadium
• Click here to see artist renderings of the stadium.
North Little Rock, Travelers Still Debating New Ballpark
North Little Rock, Stephens Plan $25 Million Park for Travelers
Is Downtown Ballpark Just A Dream?
Warren Stephens Steps Out: CEO is Newsmaker of the Year
Dream of Downtown Ballpark No Closer to Reality

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