SPOTLIGHT: Swinging bats delay demolition of Fair Grounds Field

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Fair Grounds Field, which the City of Shreveport announced last week would be demolished, will remain standing until at least August 15.

The reason?

Love. Or, nature’s calling.

“We’re in bat-mating season,” said Shelly Ragle, Director of Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation. “You cannot do anything with the bats. You cannot disturb that process.”

Bats have been the home team at FGF for several years. However, the federal government has rules and regulations regarding the removal of certain bat species. The “season” began last Friday, Ragle said, and lasts four months.

Meanwhile, when the Shreveport City Council meets next Tuesday, councilman Grayson Boucher says he will have some “pretty pertinent questions” for members of the city’s administration regarding plans to tear down FGF. That’s even though the stadium is not in Boucher’s district. Repeated messages from the Journal to Jerry Bowman, councilman for the district where FGF is located, were not returned.

“To me, it just does not make a whole bunch of sense,” Boucher said. “There’s got to be a reason why we’re wanting to issue this contract. I’ve just got to figure it out.”

Ragle told the Journal the answer is two-fold. One, the city can now afford the estimated $500,000 expense for the demolition and bat removal. “It was savings within our department,” Ragle explained. “Positions that weren’t filled between 2020 and 2021 allowed us to put that money into a capital account to do this.”

Second, city officials noted criticism from visitors who drove by FGF on Interstate 20 while here for last year’s Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl. One now-notorious Utah-based blogger raised the ire of many locals and created a social media stir with his harsh post featuring the stadium.

“After the embarrassment of the Independence Bowl, and what was written about the city, and what people saw when they came to town,” said Ragle, “the stadium looked like a war zone if you look at it from one side. We just felt like it was time.”

Since the city’s plans for FGF were made public last week, following an initial inquiry by the Journal, questions have intensified as to why the stadium — which has sat mostly unused since the departure of the Shreveport Captains and Shreveport Swamp Dragons minor league baseball teams — was allowed to fall into its current state of disrepair.

The short answer? Money. Ragle said in 2010, the last year the city fully maintained FGF, the cost was almost $300,000, including utilities.

“The choice to maintain the facility at the same level as we did when we had a tenant was a choice we had to make. Is it that, or parks where we actually have kids going?” she said.

Through the years, several people and organizations, mostly on a grassroots level, have expressed interest in renovating the 36-year-old stadium. One group, Play Ball Shreveport, was led by local real estate agent Shayne Sharkey. It wanted to lease FGF from the city, and take care of the renovations.

“We always stayed true to our message — that we wanted to use the facility to reach out to kids who were in bad, economically oppressed areas, so that they would be able to discover a sense of community through baseball and sports,” Sharkey said.

A daughter of Bob Griffin, the late, legendary local television sportscaster, approached Ragle last summer regarding FGF. Griffin’s colorful coverage of the Captains was a factor in their popularity in the heyday of the stadium.

Kristy Payne says she met with a local businessman who was prepared to line up investors to renovate the stadium. Payne’s vision was to have the facility renamed “Bob Griffin Field,” along with the name of a sponsor. However, Payne could not get a meeting with Ragle.

“I know the city would love to partner on a project that honors your Dad and his legacy,” Ragle wrote in an email to Payne. “Maybe there is something else we can do that is more cost-effective, and provides opportunities. Let me know.”

Payne said there was never a follow-up conversation.

“There were tons and tons of people coming to us,” Ragle said. “We just kept hoping that one of those would be the one who could take this stadium and make something out of it.”

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