By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Services
Through a mayoral transition, the City of Shreveport has sustained a proposal to develop a new baseball-centric stadium and entertainment district on the Louisiana State Fairgrounds along Interstate 20.
What hasn’t been seriously considered, say advocates, is the possibility of preserving the core of the dilapidated Fair Grounds Field baseball stadium built in 1986. City officials have been unwilling to have dialog with a group that believes there’s merit to rehabilitating it, because of litigation filed last fall by the group that halted demolition based on health concerns. The city has since cancelled the demo contract.
As of last week, that litigation no longer exists and the Friends of Fair Ground Field are eager to discuss what they consider a prudent, much less expensive pathway to bringing a baseball franchise and other quality of life activities to the abandoned site.
They do not want demolition to resume, first and foremost to prevent a health risk, they say, rather than simply preserving what remains of the structure. The group’s most pressing concern, said spokesman Jay Bowen, is to assure that its significant health concerns about removal of abundant bat guano in the stadium are quickly addressed.
Bats living in the stadium were removed late last summer. A count of 1,232 was provided to the Journal by contractor David Perault, who said he and associates also removed 3,000 pounds of bat waste, but more remains. That poses health risks to nearby residents and visitors to the site, says the Friends of Fair Grounds Field.
The suit, filed Oct. 3, was dropped last Wednesday “without prejudice” which allows the Friends group to revive it.
“They dropped their (demolition) contract so we have dropped our case, because they’re (apparently) not going to tear the facility down until they clean up the place. Now if they start to tear it down without cleaning it up, we’re going to bring back the case,” Bowen said. “We’re just trying to assure the city does the right thing.
“It’s a huge health risk. That’s why first and foremost why we put this case in play. We want to be sure they clean up that facility. It’s a health hazard for those who live and work nearby.
“We’re hoping that by dropping the case, we can at least sit down at the table with the city, press for responsible cleanup, and also make the case for a proper evaluation of Fair Grounds Field,” said Bowen.
“We don’t want anything but what’s best for the city. Our suggestion is to go in and do a feasibility study on our own dime. We have engineers who can tell us if it is structurally unsound as the city contended. We have architects. These people are willing to donate their time and skill.
“The city never gave us access to go in and look, and never produced anything that documents that Fair Grounds Field is beyond repair,” Bowen said. “Once we get in there to see what can be kept, and what needs to go, then we’ll know exactly. We’re proposing allowing our experts to look at no cost to the city, and from there, spending the city’s money responsibly.”
Friends of FGF believe there’s a good chance the current structure can be rehabilitated into a multi-use facility with baseball included. Soccer, lacrosse, youth sports, concerts and rodeos are potential events that could be hosted in a renovated stadium, at much less cost than building a brand-new venue, they say.
Mayor Tom Arceneaux told the Journal last month that he wanted to gather information on a proposal announced last fall by former Mayor Adrian Perkins, who entered into a consulting agreement with the Arlington, Texas-based REV Entertainment (a subsidiary of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers) to shape a proposal for an expansive development between Hirsch Coliseum and the old ballpark, abandoned for nearly a decade.
Nearly a month ago, Arceneaux was awaiting information on financing options for building a new stadium and related development. He said it would be some time before the city was positioned to decide whether to move forward with the REV proposal.
“It doesn’t have to look like what has been there, blue tin and concrete, to serve the same purpose, at much less than the $70 million than what REV has outlined,” said Bowen.
The Friends group hopes city officials will welcome discussions soon.
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