Fort Worth

With this deal, the Fort Worth Cats and LaGrave Field could be coming back to life

Fort Worth Cats fans saddened to see dilapidated state of LaGrave Field

A new group pitches a plan to acquire LaGrave Field through a land swap and put it under the control of a nonprofit foundation that would help maintain it as a public asset. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)
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A new group pitches a plan to acquire LaGrave Field through a land swap and put it under the control of a nonprofit foundation that would help maintain it as a public asset. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)

The Fort Worth Cats are one step closer to playing ball again at LaGrave Field.

On Tuesday, the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors approved a 10-year agreement with the Save LaGrave Foundation, which plans to bring minor-league baseball back to Fort Worth.

Under the agreement, the foundation will spend at least $1.5 million on capital improvements over the next 18 months. The foundation then must spend an additional $1.5 million over the following 18 months to bring the 4,100-seat stadium back to life.

Save LaGrave must provide the water district with a $1.75 million upfront, 10-year rent payment.

In the 11th year, the group would pay $14,500 a month in rent.

“I think all of the parties kind of came together and arrived at a win-win deal,” said Scott Berry, a Decatur lawyer and president of Save LaGrave Foundation.

Fort Worth has a lengthy history with minor league baseball. It initially ran from 1888 to 1964 and then again from 2002 to 2014.

LaGrave, located just north of downtown off Main Street, was built in 1926 and later demolished. A new LaGrave was built in 2002 around the original base paths.

But in the five years since the Cats stopped playing at LaGrave it fell into disrepair.

On Tuesday, Berry said the stadium would need a minimum of $3.5 million and possibly much more.

The agreement requires Save LaGrave to find a minor league baseball team that will play at least 45 regular season games and to hold a total of 120 events a year.

The Fort Worth Cats previously were in an independent minor league.

Berry would like to see the Cats play in a league including cities such as Grand Prairie, Cleburne or Sugar Land, and that ideally Texas teams could form a division in one of the independent leagues.

Energy executive Mark Caffey is the lead investor.

“Today’s approval allows us to move forward with our plans to renovate the ballpark and finalize the financial structure necessary to accomplish our goals,” Caffey said in a statement. “We’ll have a lot more updates in the coming weeks regarding refurbishing the ballpark, the details of our future operations and hiring a staff.”

Berry said he is pushing for baseball at the park by 2020.

“Without a doubt, we would be playing in 2021, but we’re going to give it every effort play in 2020,” he said.

The primary independent leagues are the North Carolina-based American Association and the Pennsylvania-based Atlantic League. Independent league teams pay players but the teams are not affiliated with any Major League Baseball team or farm system. The Texas Rangers control major league affiliates in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, including the Frisco RoughRiders.

As part of the deal, the water district agreed to swap 14.2 acres it owns under the Trinity River levees for 8.1 acres that included LaGrave Field.

Panther Acquisitions will pay the water district $1.3 million as part of the deal.

One of the major sticking points of the deal, Berry said, was satisfying investors’ concerns over the future of Panther Island. If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t start construction on the bypass channel in nine years, the land swap between Panther Acquisitions and the water district could be reversed.

“That was the biggest issue for the current property owner,” Berry said. “If the channel doesn’t eventually get built their land is not worth very much.”

Trinity Regional Water District board member Jim Lane, a longtime proponent of the Cats and LaGrave Field, applauded the deal.

“We’re not in the baseball business, all we’re doing is a land swap that protects the stadium and generates revenue for TRWD,” said Lane said in a statement. “It is a win for the community and for those who love the history and the heritage of the Fort Worth Cats.”

The 40-year lease includes the requirement that Save LaGrave pay stadium costs, including maintenance, insurance, utilities and taxes. Save LaGrave will also conduct at least 75 qualifying events each year at the stadium for other purposes, such as professional or amateur sporting events, civic and promotional activities to maximize the facility’s usage.

This restructured version of the original July 2018 agreement increases the initial capital investment required for the stadium.

Fort Worth Councilman Carlos Flores, who represents the north side area that includes La Grave, said the deal was good for the neighborhood and the city. He said he hoped baseball north of downtown would draw people to the area and be an anchor for future growth.

“Getting traffic back to LaGrave is very important,” he said. “It’s essential to bringing in all types of development.”

Staff writer Bud Kennedy contributed to this report.
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