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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Dodd Stadium advocate: City must explore future baseball options before giving up

    The Connecticut Tigers celebrated the 25th anniversary of Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium in August 2022. (The Day file photo)
    Baseball fans watch as the Norwich's minor league baseball team, then known as the Connecticut Tigers and now known as the Norwich Sea Unicorns, take on the Lowell Spinners on June 22, 2019, at Sen. Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium. (The Day file photo)

    Norwich ― Reflecting on its 30-year history and future prospects, attorney Glenn Carberry, who led the effort to bring professional baseball to the region, hopes to persuade city officials to keep Dodd Stadium open.

    As city officials begin to weigh options for the future of the city-owned Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, Carberry provided council members with a video preview of a presentation he will make in person to the council on May 20.

    Last week, the Norwich Sea Unicorns summer collegiate baseball team asked the city to remain at Dodd Stadium at least through the 2025 season. The team seeks to exercise a third-year option on the lease that runs through this summer.

    Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said the City Council will need to decide on the option, which calls for mutual approval by the two parties. The city has 30 days to respond to the request, Nystrom said. The team opens its 2024 season on Saturday, May 25.

    In his presentation, Carberry offered six recommendations on Dodd Stadium, including upgrades to try to attract a minor league baseball team with a Major League Baseball affiliation.

    Norwich was one of 42 cities cut out of minor league baseball in 2021 with a contraction ordered by MLB. Norwich had hosted AA level ball for 15 years before switching to a lower-level Class A team in 2010. After losing its major league affiliation with the Detroit Tigers, the newly named Sea Unicorns joined the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, winning the league championship in 2023.

    Carberry said MLB is considering adding two new teams, with the potential for up to 10 new minor league teams. MLB also is requiring minor league stadiums to meet new quality standards. Carberry argued some stadiums won’t meet those standards, and Dodd Stadium already meets some of them.

    Carberry recommended the city hire a specialized stadium evaluation firm to inspect Dodd Stadium and provide cost estimates for upgrades either to attract a new minor league team or allow the Sea Unicorns to regain an affiliation.

    The city could seek capital funding from the state Department of Economic and Community Development and Connecticut Development Authority. Both agencies provided the funding for most of the $9.8 million to build the stadium in 1994.

    Carberry said minor league baseball is becoming big business, with large entities buying multiple teams and investing in capital improvements. One such firm, Diamond Baseball Holdings, owns and operates 32 minor league teams.

    “To precipitously close the door to that possibility or to any baseball in Norwich by withdrawing all financial support, as suggested by some people, would reflect an unprecedented failure of leadership and vision by the city, in my opinion,” Carberry said in his video.

    Or, he continued, the city could support the Sea Unicorns and help the summer collegiate team build attendance. Carberry said Norwich ranked 32nd among 160 summer collegiate teams last year.

    While the Sea Unicorns focus on baseball, Carberry said, the city could work with local and regional entities to attract more non-baseball events -- concerts, health fairs, car shows and fundraisers -- to the stadium.

    Carberry also said the city should market stadium naming rights, such as “XYZ Field at Dodd Stadium.” A study by one city said naming rights could generate about $200,000 per year.

    Carberry reviewed all city capital and operating expenses for the stadium over the past 30 years. He calculated the city has spent an average of $89,688 per year, lower than annual costs for city amenities, such as the Rose City Senior Center, Otis Library and Mohegan Park.

    “When you consider the benefits that Dodd Stadium has brought Norwich,” Carberry said in the video, “and the recreational opportunities it has provided to city residents and other residents in the region for a cost of only $89,688, it has been a remarkable success.”

    Mayor Nystrom and other council members on Friday said they agreed it’s time to assess the future of Dodd Stadium. They will have questions for Carberry at the May 20 meeting.

    Nystrom said Friday that accepting the Sea Unicorns option for 2025 seems the responsible first move, both to support the team and allow time to consider options. He praised the Sea Unicorns for the team’s support for the community, working with civic groups over the years.

    Alderwoman Shiela Hayes said she is curious about how viable would be the prospects of attracting a minor league team and what the stadium requirements would be. She said it would be more attractive to seek a team affiliation with local interest.

    Alderwoman Stacy Gould said she will view Carberry’s video again, take notes and prepare questions on specific points, including the cost of hiring a firm to inspect the stadium.

    “I appreciate his enthusiasm for Dodd Stadium, but I just don’t know if the city can afford to maintain it,” Gould said. “There is time for us to explore some of these other opportunities. I think baseball is still something that has a lot of interest in our community. It’s something to do that’s relatively inexpensive and close by.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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