I sat down with Boise Hawks President Todd Rahr to discuss the topic of a new stadium, as well as the problems currently facing Memorial Stadium. Here is the interview.
JE: Is Memorial Stadium on the same level as the other stadiums in Class-A or the Northwest League?
TR: No, not at all. The stadium is rot with issues that I would say Yakima is the only stadium in the league that shares the same issues. There’s an inadequate amount of seats here, however, the seats we do have here, a third of them, are affected by the sun and are “undesirable”. Which could easily be taken care of with a new facility or renovation.
JE: What parts of Memorial Stadium are in the worst condition?
TR: Our kitchen facilities are substandard; our concession stand areas are substandard. We do not have an ADA compliant facility and we’re the only one that isn’t in the league (with the exception of the Spokane Indians). Our seats are substandard – we broke 60 last year. I’ve never been in a stadium that has broken a seat. Ever. It’s ridiculous. A lot of the problems are on the underbelly of the stadium that we have to upgrade for the Chicago Cubs. I want to avoid a revolving door of teams coming and going.
JE: Is renovation more efficient than a new stadium or is just a Band-Aid fix?
TR: I would say renovation is a band-aid. If we’re going going to renovate on this current spot, my feeling is that it would be better to just tear it down and start all over again, and maybe play a year at Borah High. Maybe we’ll go retro for a year, who knows? The one thing that would happen is that ownership would have to foot the entire bill. We’re trying to work with cities to build a facility that isn’t just a “Hawks” facility, it’s a multi-use facility. We would then guarantee being the primary tenant.
I think that’s what people get misconstrued; that we’re going out and seeking public money for a Boise Hawks stadium. We’re trying to catalyze a stadium being built in the Treasure Valley. They need a lot, especially in Boise. Boise State could use it and [the city of Boise] doesn’t have an outdoor concert venue to compete with the Idaho Center
JE: Who would benefit most from a new stadium (fans, players, ownership)?
TR: In my mind it would be the city, especially if it’s in Boise. Which, in turn, is the community at large. Donald Larson Park, for instance, is going to be built and used for football; however you’ve have no parking, with a possible crowd of 8,000 people and only 60 parking spots. With Whole Foods over there as well, that’s going to become a big problem with those living near Warm Springs. It’s a fix, but they need more and that’s what the school district has told us. They need more options and we can become that. If you go to Meridian it’s the same situation.
Next on the list, let’s be honest, the Boise Hawks are going to be a big beneficiary of this facility because this changes our entire business model. I also think it catalyzes a lot of things like redeveloping downtown with shops, restaurants and bars. That’s the only part of town that really makes sense.
JE: What is the process of getting a new stadium?
TR: If you study the process of stadiums being built around the country, you’ll see that no two stadiums have been built the same way. So, our process here is to get a municipality between city hall, developers, citizens and the business community and to get everyone on the same page. If there isn’t that feeling, its not going to be a success. On the other hand we have Idaho, which has one of the roughest ways of financing something like this. Really, the only way to do this is through urban renewal and bonding.
JE: What other stadiums would the new stadium resemble?
TR: It will really determine on the site we choose. In my mind, if we’re going on the western side of Boise, you want something that faces the foothills and has a neighborhood feel to it, like Wrigley Field. We just want to fulfill what we say we will fulfill to this community. This facility does not represent the size and scope that the city has to offer to outside businesses and the citizens that are.
JE: What are the proposed locations for the new stadium?
TR: There’s current site, which would be on us completely. There’s a site that’s on the western side of downtown, where I think we would do the most good by building up the area. There’s a site by the airport, as well as by the outlet malls. We’ve talked about in Meridian by I-84. It comes down to how we’re going to finance this project.
JE: Did the Chicago Cubs demand this stadium expansion or is the project completely internal?
TR: To keep the Chicago Cubs, we have to get a new facility built or make a huge renovation on the current stadium. The Cubs are now under new ownership, and the Rickets family has said that we want the best facilities for our minor league team. In Mesa, AZ they have a $100 million project going on down there, so they’re not going to settle for second-rate facilities. There’s pressure from ownership to get a new facility… We need to find an option for the next 50-100 years.
JE: How far away is the new stadium?
TR: New stadium? I’ve always said Opening Day 2015. I wish I could say that it would be in 2013 or 2014 but I think we’re on pace to have a new facility for Opening Day 2015.
JE: Is the increase in revenue with a new stadium only due to a “honeymooner” period?
TR: There’s certainly a major spike in years one, two and three. But studies show that come year four or five you’re still doing better than you were previously. There’s always a honeymooner period, but we’re not going to have the full event schedule until at least year three anyway. Once it’s built hopefully it will sustain itself for many, many years.
JE: Currently, it seems the Hawks have trouble filling the stand in the current facility. Won’t that problem only increase with a larger stadium?
TR: Actually, our only problem currently is with the first base side and the sun. We have no trouble filling the third base and home plate stands on any given night. We’re sold out almost any given night in those two sections. The problem is, first base and we still draw 82 percent capacity which is far and away the best in this league. CSL, who did a study for the city, has shown that we have the demand in this town for 5,500 to 6,000 in attendance on a nightly basis. Our goal is for 4,500-5,000. We’re going to build it right, so we don’t have to deal with the issues with we’re dealing with right now.
JE: In the end, is stadium expansion even feasible or is it just a dream?
TR: Do I think it can happen?
TR: Yes I do. It’s up to citizens and corporate citizens to get in the ballpark and use it. I believe the plan is good and solid. They we’re doing it, the burden will be put on the owners of businesses or condominiums that will be built in the zone through property tax. You and I won’t see the difference.