Before its contract with the Nashville Sounds expires this month, Milwaukee Brewers management hopes to see progress on new stadium talks from the team’s triple-A minor league partner to the south.
The Brewers two-year player development contract with the Sounds comes to an end Sept. 30. Mayor Karl Dean’s administration last year commissioned a study on potential stadium sites that recommended three locations for a new Sounds ballpark. But since the release of that December 2011 report, talks with the mayor’s office on a new stadium haven’t gained momentum.
“We’re interested to hear how things are progressing down there in Nashville as far as the new stadium goes,” Scott Martens, the Brewers’ manager of player development and minor league operations, told The City Paper last week when asked whether the organization would renew its Sounds affiliation.
“I know they’ve talked about it for a number of years,” he said. “I know they did a survey this past fall or winter ... to determine some potential sites. But there really hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion that I’ve heard talked about since that survey was done. We’re waiting to get an update from the Sounds ownership as to where those talks may be or where they may not be.”
The Sounds season concluded Monday with a home game. According to Martens, Major League Baseball provides a two-week window following the end of the season for teams to declare intent to either extend or discontinue player development contracts with minor league affiliates. At that point, the Brewers could explore other markets.
“From a business perspective, the Brewers are very happy with the Sounds current ownership,” Martens said. “We’ve had a great working relationship with them. So, things are very positive from that aspect. It really boils down to the facility.
“It’s a great city — a baseball city — from our perspective,” he said. “They’ve got a great fan base. And I think they deserve better from a baseball standpoint.”
The Sounds, which a group of investors called MFP Baseball purchased three and a half years ago, has operated as the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate since 2005. Upon taking the reins of the Sounds, MFP has eyed a new downtown stadium to replace 35-year-old Greer Stadium, the oldest in the Pacific Coast League.
Sounds owners are hoping for assistance from Dean’s administration to land a private-public partnership for a new ballpark. But in terms of large-scale second-term projects, Dean’s office is currently concentrated on an expensive bus rapid transit project proposed along the Broadway-West End Corridor, extending to Five Points in East Nashville.
Given the scope of the massive BRT project, some observers question whether Dean’s administration would be in position to simultaneously lead the way for a new Sounds stadium over the next three years.
“Mayor Dean supports having minor league baseball in Nashville, but any sort of future investment must be led by the private sector and must make sense for the city,” Dean’s press secretary Bonna Johnson said. “The contract under discussion now is an arrangement entirely between the Brewers and the Sounds.”
According to Doug Scopel, Sounds assistant general manager, attendance at Greer Stadium during the 2012 season was 321,042. That figure (an average of 4,792 per game) marked a small decline from 2011 when 335,143 people attended Sounds games at Greer. The Sounds had a league-high five rainouts this past season.
Metro’s 2011 stadium site evaluation study, undertaken by Kansas-City based Populous Inc., suggested three potential locations for a new ballpark: the east bank of the Cumberland River, the north Gulch area and the former Sulpher Dell site north of the state capitol building. Sounds ownership favors the east bank for a new stadium to replace Greer.
“The Sounds position has always been very clear,” Sounds lobbyist Tom White said. “There needs to be a new ballpark, and it’s also clear that they need to have the [mayor’s] administration concur with them as to the best site. The Sounds are still hoping that will happen in the very near future.”
Asked how long the stadium issue could remain unresolved, White said, “As long as the Sounds and the Brewers have a good relationship, it could go on.”
Based on precedent, the Brewers position on a new Sounds stadium should not be interpreted as an ultimatum.
Leading up to the renewal of the Brewers-Sounds player development contract two years ago, Martens also made it clear the major league franchise hoped progress would be made on the Sounds stadium front. Stadium discussions were in a similar status then, but the Brewers renewed the contract nonetheless.
“I don’t think we’re in a position, the way the process works, to make demands,” Martens told The City Paper last week. “Would we like to be in a new facility? Absolutely.”