The Cats played their last game in 2014 and the ballpark has slowly fallen apart, being vandalized repeatedly by trespassers.
Now it appears to be getting a new lease on life.
The Tarrant Regional Water District approved a land swap Tuesday with the ballpark’s owners, Houston-based Panther Acquisition Partners.
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Under the deal, TRWD will swap 15.3 acres appraised at $8.39 million along the West Fork of the Trinity River for 8.1 acres that includes LaGrave Field and a small adjacent tract that is appraised at $7 million. To make the swap equitable, the water district will also receive $1.3 million in cash.
The water district’s board members also approved a letter of intent for a 40-year lease with Save LaGrave Foundation Inc., a nonprofit, to operate the stadium. The agreement requires an immediate payment of $4 million by the foundation and another $3 million in prepaid rent within 18 months.
Save LaGrave must spend at least $1 million in capital improvements within the first 18 months and another $1 million in the following 18 months. The non-profit is also required to pay all stadium costs, including maintenance, insurance, utilities and taxes so TRWD will spend no dollars on the stadium.
Scott Berry, head of Save La Grave and a former Cats executive, said it will take $2.5 million to $10 million to bring LaGrave back to life.
“I think the most difficult part is behind us,” Berry said.
They will operate as both a non-profit for the stadium and a for-profit operating company.
“The stadium’s bones are good but it’s basically a shell at this point in time,” Berry said. “It’s basically a demo project on the interiors. It’s take it down to the walls and studs and improve it from there.”
It’s too early to say if there will be minor league baseball at LaGrave in 2019.
“We will know for sure by no later than the middle of October,” Berry said. “I won’t let it go longer than that.”
He must also secure the approval of the Cats name, which is owned by the city.
And while the plan is to play as an independent team, Berry hasn’t committed to a league at this point.
“We are keeping our options open,” Berry said. “We want to play in the best league. Our ultimate goal is to play in a Texas-centric league. We feel very strongly that there needs to be a league with multiple Texas teams and right now that doesn’t really exist.”
TRWD board member Jim Lane, a long-time booster of the Cats and LaGrave Field, hopes baseball will be back by next summer.
“It gives LaGrave Field a chance to come back to life,” Lane said. “TRWD is not in the baseball business but this stadium is very important to the city and the Panther Island project.”
Built in 2002 on the stadium site and the original basepaths that were once home to a storied Brooklyn Dodgers minor-league baseball team, the future of LaGrave has been uncertain for years.
Lane has always insisted that the best way to protect the ballpark was for it to be in the hands of a public entity.
Under the agreement, Panther Acquisition Partners, owner of several tracts nearby, must meet milestones to build on the property once the levees come down for the Panther Island project. The company must construct buildings within the Panther Island design guidelines in six 24-month intervals. If it fails to do so, TRWD can repurchase the undeveloped property at 20 percent under the appraised value.
“That’s great news for baseball fans in Fort Worth, for sure,” said Mark Schuster of Dallas, commissioner of the Dallas-based Southwest League, a startup independent minor league.
Dallas city officials announced a 30-year lease agreement for a new team to play in a new stadium in Reverchon Park.
The league will begin play in 2019 with teams in Waco, Dallas, Royse City and Joplin, Mo., with two more cities to be named, according to Schuster, former owner of the Grand Prairie AirHogs.
“We certainly have an interest in being in Fort Worth,” Schuster said. “We explored the possibility three or four years ago, but it was on the back burner then.”