Mac Engel

Fort Worth sports landmark needs perfection to survive

Another baseball season has come and gone, as well as another election cycle.

The city of Fort Worth or potential investors are not much closer on what to do with LaGrave Field.

The home of the Fort Worth Cats baseball team is now a museum on the Trinity River. It’s the kind of museum that makes you sad.

The once pristine 5,000-seat stadium has been vandalized, much of it effectively destroyed. There is evidence of homeless people living there. An office chair sits in center field, facing the tattered scoreboard.

Renovating this place will require millions.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price would like to see the park come back, but is not going to ask the city to foot the bill.

“The facility has a lot of people that would love to use it,” said Mark Presswood, the real estate agent who represents LaGrave Field owners Andrew Schatte and Mike Balloun.

Presswood did not want to discuss this matter further, although God knows I tried.

Saving LaGrave will require a plan, investors and perfect timing to interest the city.

Fort Worth is the second-largest city in the United States without a professional sports team. The largest is three hours south in Austin.

As the 16th largest city in the U.S., Fort Worth needs to develop an outdoor mixed-use venue. The return of independent league baseball is not the answer, but the idea of building a professional-style venue that can be used for football, soccer and baseball needs to be a priority in the next decade.

In August, the Star-Telegram reported about a group of investors trying to save LaGrave and bring the Fort Worth Cats back in independent league baseball. The team last played at LaGrave in 2014.

The safe bet is to assume that the land will one day be used for condos and office space.

Pro sports venues are a scam, but they are part of doing business. We have become conditioned that taxpayers are expected to pay for the home of a professional sports team.

Fort Worth’s history with covering the costs of sports is erratic.

Fort Worth voters had no problem approving the Dickies Arena in 2014. The $540 million project is a public-private partnership, with the city’s portion capped at $225 million. Event Facilities Fort Worth, headed by financier Ed Bass, will cover the rest.

The arena is already scheduled to host first- and second-round games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2022 and the American Athletic Conference basketball tournament from 2020-22. The NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are scheduled there from 2020-22.

The city is working in conjunction with Colonial Country Club to secure its future on the PGA Tour calendar.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, however, has grown critical over Fort Worth’s perceived unwillingness to promote the track and its events despite the location of the track.

Price and Fort Worth are simply not going to get into the business of helping to pay for a venue that would be used mostly by independent league baseball. Nor should it.

Sounds great, but independent league baseball is a scary business model, especially for a team so close to the Texas Rangers. Or the Frisco RoughRiders. Or the Grand Prairie AirHogs.

And this says nothing of this town’s repeated failed history of supporting minor league sports teams. The Fort Worth Fire and the Fort Worth Brahmas both tried and failed. The NBA’s D-League tried Fort Worth and it didn’t work. The same for the ArenaLeague football team.

“There are independent league teams that sustain success but it’s a hard sell most everywhere,” RoughRiders owner Chuck Greenberg said. “It works in a community not served by baseball, and that’s not the case anywhere in DFW. Minor league baseball is affordable, family fun but it’s about storylines, guys coming up. Independent leagues don’t have that.

“Without a major league affiliation (to a team in Fort Worth), I don’t see how a team there would be anything other than a fleeting endeavor.”

These realities don’t mean LaGrave needs to be razed tomorrow morning. There exists a structural frame to expand and turn it into a mixed-use venue. The is perfect: In the heart of the city’s ambitious Trinity River Vision/Panther Island project with a nice view of downtown.

As Price noted in our conversation, there is more than enough support and enthusiasm for soccer. The existence of the Fort Worth Vaqueros could help, but that low-level minor league franchise does not have enough money to fund this sort of project.

According to a source, the Vaqueros are trying to acquire a piece of land on North University Drive, near Rockwood GoKart track, to build a small stadium with a practice field.

None of this bodes well, right now, for LaGrave, which is a broken, sad museum with an uncertain future waiting for the right project, and election cycle, to save it.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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