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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Advocate says Norwich should not give up on bringing minor league team to Dodd Stadium

    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 Dodd Stadium. (Day file photo)

    Norwich ― Norwich should get back into the game and try again to lure a minor league baseball team to Dodd Stadium, attorney Glenn Carberry, who led the effort to bring professional baseball to the region, told the City Council on Monday.

    As city leaders ponder the future of the 30-year-old Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium and whether to upgrade it, sell it to host professional or college-level ball or market the property for sale, Carberry stressed the history, benefits and future opportunities of keeping the stadium viable.

    After Major League Baseball eliminated 42 minor league-affiliated teams, including Norwich’s Connecticut Tigers, the newly named Norwich Sea Unicorns shifted into a summer team for college players in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. In April, the team officially requested to remain in Norwich at least through the 2025 baseball season and asked the city to exercise a third-year option on its current two-year lease that runs through this summer.

    Carberry told the City Council the stadium is one of only eight in New England built for minor-league teams, and he said now is the time to try to attract another team. If Major League Baseball expands to two more teams, there could be 10 new minor league teams created.

    Carberry added that there are eight teams in the eastern United States that fell short of drawing 200,000 fans and could seek to relocate. Carberry said Norwich has a record of minor league success. During the final two years of the Connecticut Defenders in Norwich in 2008 and 2009, the team drew 202,554 per year, an average of 3,000 per game.

    A new trend, he said, is that large investor-owners are coming to dominate minor league baseball. One, Diamond Baseball Holdings LLC, owns 33 minor league teams and has invested huge amounts in stadium upgrades.

    “From my review, there appear to be a dozen cities in the eastern U.S. that play in stadiums that are smaller and in worse shape than ours,” Carberry said.

    Building on a 30-year investment

    He briefly reviewed the ups and downs of the stadium’s three-decade history, from the euphoria of luring a AA-level New York Yankees affiliate to town, to the switch to the San Francisco Giants team in 2002, and when the team moved to Richmond, Va., in 2009, to the Single-A Detroit Tigers in 2010.

    Carberry recalled that the team was forced to pay the city a $140,000 departure fee that was supposed to go into stadium upgrades but instead was diverted to the city’s general fund.

    Unprecedented events hit in 2020, with the cancellation of what would have been the final season of the Single-A Connecticut Tigers before MLB made its move to eliminate 42 teams.

    Over the 30 years, Carberry summarized, the city has invested some $2.8 million into the stadium, an average of $89,688 per year through the current fiscal year.

    Carberry said the city could either work with the current team or a new team to bring back affiliated minor league baseball to the stadium. Or it could work with the Sea Unicorns to market the current summer collegiate team to boost attendance.

    He offered to help the city identify a baseball stadium technical expert to inspect the stadium and produce a capital improvements plan. He said the city should retain $350,000 in approved bonding money not yet spent for future stadium repairs. Marketing the naming rights, as in “XYZ Field at Dodd Stadium” could bring in additional revenue for upgrades.

    During discussion with the council following the presentation, Mayor Peter Nystrom and aldermen thanked Carberry for his presentation and “30 years of homework” on the stadium.

    Nystrom also praised the current team for its outreach to the community and for working with numerous community agencies, such as cancer societies, chambers of commerce and other fundraisers. Nystrom said in addition to the $22,500 annual rent, the team is due to pay a $90,000 lump sum payment if the option year is extended.

    Sell the stadium

    Along with Carberry’s written and oral presentation, the council received a five-page letter from local attorney Samuel Browning, a strong critic of Dodd Stadium.

    Browning also spoke during public comment period Monday, saying the city doesn’t really know the total cost of running the stadium over 30 years, including city labor costs by the Public Works Department crews maintaining the stadium.

    He called it “a double loss” that the city has not received any tax revenue from the property that could have been generated if it were sold as industrial land. Browning also speculated the region’s population is not large enough to support a minor league team.

    “Instead of continuing as a Stadium, do not renew the Sea Unicorns,” Browning wrote in his letter. “Sell the property to a commercial developer with a deed restriction prohibiting residential development or ownership of the property by a tax-exempt non-profit, and make commercial tax revenue.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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