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Norwich - The 20th anniversary of the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium is a good time to start planning for the next 20 years by investing in capital improvements and marketing, Glenn Carberry, the person who launched the idea of bringing minor league baseball to Norwich, told the City Council Monday.
Carberry presented a report that outlined the sometimes turbulent but exciting history of Dodd Stadium and the minor league teams that have called it home.
He said now is the time to plan for the future, suggesting the city's Baseball Stadium Authority and the Connecticut Tigers submit a five-year capital plan that would be part of the city's annual budget planning process. Carberry praised the Tigers for bringing in numerous springtime college and high school baseball games, road races, the Connecticut Renaissance Faire and for hosting the annual fall Octoberfest.
But he said the city also should try to reach out to local colleges to see if one of them could make Dodd Stadium its regular home field. That would bring in additional rental income and help pay for capital improvements.
Carberry also suggested the city apply for a state Department of Economic and Community Development grant to pay for some stadium improvements and marketing. He said the city should set up a tourism and community events office at the stadium.
"The office would promote events held throughout the community and be charged with the responsibility of bringing more events to the stadium each year," Carberry said. "I know that tradition holds that everything should be downtown, but why not go where the people are?"
To implement his proposals, Carberry suggested the City Council establish a task force with two members of the Stadium Authority, two aldermen, a representative from the Connecticut Tigers and one or two "knowledgeable volunteers" to plan for the stadium's future.
Carberry also asked the council to "correct a mistake" made in 2010 when the Connecticut Defenders team broke its lease early and had to pay a $140,000 penalty. Carberry said that money was supposed to be given to the Stadium Authority to make necessary repairs or improvements to attract a new team. Instead, the city put the money into the city's general fund.
Much of Carberry's report was dedicated to recounting the political fights and baseball wars between Norwich and New York state and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in which the small eastern Connecticut city prevailed.
Carberry cited the enormous local cooperation that was needed in 1994 when a Groton site for the stadium fell through and Norwich had little time to secure a site for the stadium to keep the hope of bringing a team to the region alive.
"This action took courage," Carberry said, "But I think that Norwich was the only town in southeastern Connecticut that had the ingenuity, the leaders and the determination to complete the project."
Carberry said Norwich has benefited greatly from the deal. The city initially invested $726,000 into the $9.8 million project and added another $1 million in improvements over the years - including new indoor batting and pitching facility and new bullpens - and "the stadium is debt free and is fully paid for."
More than 4 million fans have gone through the turnstiles, with about 2.5 million of them from outside Norwich, Carberry said.
He said he wanted to use the 20th anniversary as the occasion to plan for the future as well as inform today's city leaders of how the stadium wound up in Norwich.
"The stadium has been operated without any subsidy from the city budget for 20 years based on the team rent, parking revenue and other expenses paid for by the baseball tenants," Carberry said. "When you consider the benefits that this facility has brought Norwich and the recreational opportunities it has provided to city residents for a cost of only $90,000 per year, this is a remarkable success."
Carberry was referring to the city's $1,726,000 investment divided by 20 years.