Task force determines baseball-softball complex at NSC not feasible

The National Sports Center in Blaine already has the world’s largest soccer complex and hockey arena.

Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC) Executive Director Paul Erickson pitched the idea to Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter of “the triple crown of amateur sports in America” by building a large baseball and softball athletic complex that would have included 20 baseball and softball fields, a small exhibition stadium and an indoor training facility.

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Although there was a lot of excitement about this project, a $60,000 report showed it would lose a lot of money in the first five years.

Therefore, the National Sports Center may end up building approximately 22 more playing fields for soccer, lacrosse, rugby and ultimate disc on 80 acres it owns between 105th and 109th avenues and west of Radisson Road, making the largest outdoor fields complex in the world even bigger.

This recommendation came during a Jan. 16 task force meeting involving members of the MASC and National Sports Center Foundation boards, the Blaine city manager and the mayor of Blaine. Representatives from Anoka County and the Minnesota Twins were unable to attend this meeting.

Erickson said the next step is to have the MASC and NSC boards approve this recommendation and then seek $3 million in state bonding money this legislative session.

“It is a little bit disappointing, but at the same time it’s a pretty thorough study,” said Al Gottschalk, a member of the task force and the National Sports Center Foundation board.

Erickson said the 1987 Minnesota Legislature created the MASC so that a positive economic impact would with amateur sports teams coming from outside the state to compete in tournaments at the NSC.

The NSC complex is owned by the MASC, but managed by the non-profit NSCF. It can be credited with bringing between $38 and $39 million a year into the state from spending by non-Minnesota teams, according to NSC spokesperson Barclay Kruse. This includes money spent in hotels, restaurants, shopping, trips to tourist attractions such as Valley Fair and tournament fees..

The feasibility study showed the National Sports Center would have more difficulty drawing in enough baseball and softball teams to pay for operating expenses.Although there was some disappointment in the results, Blaine City Manager Clark Arneson sees it as positive news that the MASC and NSC have been on the right track of focusing on the development of playing fields rather than ball fields.

Members of a task force determined that it was not feasible to build a baseball and softball complex on 80 acres of property at the National Sports Center in Blaine. Photos by Eric Hagen
Members of a task force determined that it was not feasible to build a baseball and softball complex on 80 acres of property at the National Sports Center in Blaine. Photos by Eric Hagen

“It’s less cost, more economic impact,” Arneson said.

Minneapolis and Dallas-based Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CSL) teamed up with Baltimore, Md.-based Ripkin Design to complete this $60,000 study, Kruse said.

Funding sources included $40,000 from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and $5,000 each from the Minnesota Twins Baseball Club, Anoka County, the city of Blaine and NSC.

The feasibility study looked at three scenarios. Scenario A involved 20 baseball and softball fields, which would have included four fields the city of Blaine owns adjacent to where the 16 new fields would go, a small exhibition stadium, an indoor baseball training center and six soccer fields. An alternative to Scenario A was to not add the six soccer fields.

The task force chose Scenario B, which would include 22 new playing fields for soccer, lacrosse, rugby and ultimate disc and no baseball or softball fields or training facilities. This option could cost approximately $3 million, while both alternatives of the first option could have cost between $16.4 million and $17.3 million.

Options with the stadium and indoor training center cost much more because it involves brick and mortar facilities, but the study noted that constructing soccer fields is less expensive than ball fields because they do not require fencing, dugouts and infield dirt.

Erickson said at most a playing field for soccer, lacrosse or rugby is lined once a day. Ball fields need to be re-lined before, during and after every game –  so operating costs are also higher, he said.

Kruse said the Minnesota Twins were interested in having the indoor training center, while the NSC had considered hosting a Northwoods League baseball team, which is in a collegiate wood bat league with franchises located throughout the upper Midwest.

The region’s cold climate would have precluded the National Sports Center from having year-round tournaments, according to the feasibility report. The assumption was the NSC would have only been able to host 14 annual tournaments.

Complexes such as Ballfields at Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, with 60 annual tournaments and the Victory Lane Sports Park in Glendale, Ariz., with 50 annual tournaments along with numerous other facilities in the southern U.S. have the benefit of a warmer climate during most of the year.

There was a lot of interest from the 42 groups for the feasibility study. About 60 percent are from Illinois and 19 percent of the respondents are in the Twin Cities. Teams from Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Michigan and out-state Minnesota were also surveyed.

About 90 percent said they would be very interested or somewhat interested to participate in a tournament at the NSC. Overall experience provided to players, the quality of fields and the number of guaranteed games were the three most important factors in determining where these teams travel to, although locally-based teams were more sensitive to tournament entry fees. There are numerous baseball and softball tournaments in the Twin Cities metro area, so there would be a lot of pressure to stay competitive on prices.

How more fields could help

Although weather was one downfall for limiting the number of baseball and softball tournaments during the year, Duane Arens, chairperson of the task force and the MASC, said the NSC has done very well in soccer.

Duane Arens, chairperson of the task force and the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission board.
Duane Arens, chairperson of the task force and the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission board.

At the 2012 Schwan’s USA Cup, 958 teams featuring about 14,000 players came from 22 U.S. states and 16 countries.

Kruse said they had to turn away about 100 teams because the 46 fields the National Sports Center could not handle any more games.

The feasibility study estimated the NSC would lose money every year with the baseball-softball complex, but come out ahead with soccer. The study estimates that by the fifth year of the 22 fields being open, it could have a positive operating revenues of $264,000. The alternative with the 20 baseball and softball fields, the small stadium and indoor baseball facility would be estimated to lose $123,000.

With there being numerous baseball and softball tournaments in Minnesota and throughout the country and with the National Sports Center already hosting the successful Schwan’s USA Cup and many other tournaments, Gottschalk said it makes sense to look into more playing fields.

There used to be more fields, but Kruse said some were lost when the ice arena and golf course were built. Having additional fields would be welcome for the rest of the year outside of the nine-day USA Cup in July, he said.

It would allow even more games of different sports to be played at the same time and it would cut down on the wear and tear because games could be rotated more between different fields, according to Kruse.

The entire 80-acre area would be graded flat so the fields could be rearranged depending on whether soccer, lacrosse or rugby were taking place. The sand base beneath the fields would allow much quicker drainage, similar to what happens inside NSC’s stadium. During the 2011 Schwan’s USA Cup, about half the fields could not be immediately be played on after a rainstorm.

NSC has already hosted numerous non-soccer tournaments, but the slope between the current fields designed for holding water makes it more of a challenge to rearrange the field layout for the different sports, Kruse said.

If the Minnesota Legislature approves $3 million for this project in a bonding bill and construction starts this year, the fields would be ready no sooner than 2014, but a lot of variables are in play, he said.

The NSC would also have to receive approval from the Blaine City Council for a new access road off 105th Avenue and approval of the site plan, which would need to include additional parking lots. The fields would be seeded rather than sod being used so the root system is stronger and does not need to be watered as often, but it takes grass longer to be ready for use when seeding.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]