Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Road to Blasters agreement began with Mark Rohr dog-and-pony show
Just what will the Blasters do to increase attendance during the 2016 season?
Having a solid team and being near the top of the American Association during the team's inaugural season only brought slightly more than 1,000 per outing, so even improvement in the on-the-field product is no guarantee the numbers will go up.
It seems to be a much easier business plan to convince a gullible Joplin City Council to continue to use more and more tax money to reduce the Blasters' costs, therefore improving their bottom line and continue to blame the people of Joplin for not racing to Joe Becker Stadium and supporting this wonderful product.
Sorry, but this guilt game is nonsense. The people of Joplin owe no obligation to either the Joplin Blasters or to the politicians and officials (and the unelected leaders) who pushed minor league baseball (call it independent if you wish) on a market area that is far too small to support such a venture.
Two documents tell the story when it comes to how Joplin wound up in its current situation.
One is the richest source of news stories the Joplin Globe has ever chose to ignore- the Loraine Report.
In his interview with Osage Beach attorney Thomas Loraine, former Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce official Gary Box spoke of a quest for minor league baseball that began when Missouri Southern State University first announced its intention to build its own stadium and leave Joe Becker Stadium without a tenant.
Box told Loraine former City Manager Mark Rohr and former Parks and Recreation Director Chris Cotten contacted officials with the American Association and convinced the league president, Miles Wolf, to come to Joplin in 2010 to talk about the possibility of bringing a team here.
"We gave him the greatest dog-and-pony show we could," Box said, "but he was honest with us and said, 'Guys, Joplin is a great baseball community. I think we could definitely have a team here and succeed, but this facility, this ballpark doesn't cut it.' "
Then came the Joplin Tornado and in the aftermath of the storm, Texas con artist David Wallace of Wallace Bajjali. Wallace told members of the CART (Citizens Advisory Recovery Team) he could deliver everything they wanted and one of the things they wanted was a baseball team for Joplin.
Box told Loraine that Wallace said the owner of the Amarillo Gold Sox was interested in putting a team in Joplin. This would have been a new team for the owner and not the Gold Sox. But no deal would be made without the guarantee of a new stadium.
Joe Becker Stadium never figured in David Wallace's plans since there was no way he could leverage any money for his company out of that. Like all of Wallace Bajjali's proposals, no movement was taking place and during that time Cotten was in contact with the owners of the El Paso Diablos.
The Diablos deal would not require a new stadium, just an overhaul of Joe Becker. And for that to happen, the city would have to spend millions. In order to make that possible, it had to be shown that an independent baseball team could succeed here.
That is where the second document comes in, one that has been written about before in the Turner Report. The decision to spend more than $4 million to renovate Joe Becker was made after a flawed feasibility study commissioned by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce made it appear that an independent baseball team's success in Joplin was a foregone conclusion.
In the October 12, 2015, Turner Report, I wrote the following:
The 2013 study that convinced Joplin City Council to give the go-ahead for more than $4 million worth of construction at Joe Becker Stadium was deeply flawed and describes millions of dollars in benefits for the city by using a model that does not apply here.
The study, which was commissioned by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and was done by the Economic Strategy Center of Lansing, Michigan, based National Community Development Services, relies heavily on prior research that was done by Minor League Baseball MiLB and was primarily based on teams that were affiliated with major league baseball.
The study shows that no such survey was taken concentrating on independent teams such as the Joplin Blasters and their opponents in the American Association.
Those calculations led to estimates of 3,500 attendance at each game, a number that was twice the turnout for the Blasters' inaugural season.
With the attendance diminished by that much, naturally the estimated totals for vending sales, parking, and other game-related activities were also far lower than the original estimates.
And while many Joplin area residents enjoyed watching Blasters games, the Chamber's overly optimistic assessment of the impact minor league baseball would have on Joplin could also impact the millions of future dollars the study said the city would receive via loft apartments and retail in the area of Joe Becker Stadium.
The study indicated the city would benefit from having two restaurants, office space, 16 loft apartments, and a couple of retail stores, with an initial benefit coming from the construction.
The study can be found at this link.
As it turns out, I was wrong when I said the estimates of 3,500 were twice as many people as the number that actually turned out. It was actually three and half times as many, since attendance was right at about 1,000.
The chances of attendance ever reaching 3,500 are slim and none.
In the comments area for various news outlets' Facebook pages following the announcement of the deal reached Monday night between the Blasters and the city, there are those who are holding the Blasters totally to blame.
The situation, however, was brought about by Joplin officials and an unelected group of leading citizens who continue to tell us what we want without ever asking us and then spend taxpayers' money, not their own, to make sure we get it.
If the Blasters succeed and remain in Joplin, these people will be the ones to take the credit. If the Blasters fail, that becomes our failure.
After all, they brought us this wonderful entertainment and we didn't support it.