Monday, January 22, 2001

Florence considers minor-league ballpark

Frontier League team would play there

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ballpark plan
| ZOOM |
        FLORENCE — Mayor Diane Whalen doesn't mind the “Field of Dreams” jokes when she discusses a proposal to build a 4,000- to 5,000-seat ballpark for a Frontier League baseball team in her city.

        “There's nothing wrong with a dream,” she said, “and sometimes you just need to dream and take a chance on something.”

        Florence is poised to take a chance. All Mrs. Whalen and City Council have to do is put together a financial package to buy land and build a stadium. If they build it, you will come, even if the team gets named the Florence Y'alls.

        “I have the financial interest for the franchise covered,” he said, “But the city would build the ballpark.”

        Cincinnati businessman Gary Enzweiler, a 33-year-old Fort Mitchell native, has obtained rights to a franchise in the independent Frontier League, a professional league not affiliated with Major League Baseball. This year, the league will have 12 teams competing in the Midwest.

        Mr. Enzweiler, Mrs. Whalen and Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee met Friday with representatives of Comair to discuss corporate sponsorship and possible naming rights to a stadium.

        Mrs. Whalen said the city also is close to hiring a firm to study the plan's economic feasibility, and the city has scouted some possible locations for the park's 22 acres.

        Money matters — the estimated $10 million to buy land and build the stadium — remain up in the air.

        “This is all preliminary and hasn't been discussed formally by City Council,” Mrs. Whalen said.

        “Making this happen will take work and commitment on our part. We need to be able to prove we can cover much of the debt service. And there's always the concern that the team will be here for a couple of years and then fold, leaving us with a ballpark.”

        If all goes according to plan, and the team is playing in the stadium by 2003, Mr. Enzweiler said, he wants it to be a family attraction, with $6 ticket prices.

  The Frontier League, a private baseball league with headquarters in Zanesville, Ohio, began in 1992-1993 with eight teams in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
  During the next five years, several teams dropped out and others entered, stretching the league boundaries into Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois.
  In 1999 the league became international, with a franchise in Ontario, Canada.
  Missouri also picked up a team that year.
  Salaries in the league range from $500 to $1,100 a month, and the salary cap for a team's entire roster is $49,600 a year.
        League Commissioner Lee said he is impressed with the prospect of a franchise near Cincinnati. “Studies have shown that the two best baseball towns in the country are St. Louis and Cincinnati,” he said.

        Mr. Enzweiler, who lives in Loveland, owned and sold two information technology companies. He saw the league's Johnstown (Pa.) Johnnies play last year, and began to study the Frontier League. Ultimately he obtained the rights to a franchise here.

        He is targeting a 25-acre tract at the northbound Interstate 75 ramp to U.S. 42 as a possible stadium site.

        He has also checked on at least two other sites in Florence.

        Mrs. Whalen agreed that a ballpark just off I-75 at the city's southern gateway would be impressive.

        “It would be a wonderful addition to the city, something completely different,” she said. “Florence has an identity as a retail hub, and that's fine. But this would give another identity.”

        Property like the I-75/U.S. 42 site, because of its proximity to Florence Mall and other businesses, is about $200,000 an acre.At that price, the total cost of a stadium could run close to $10 million.

        “We would have to look at ways of financing the cost of the land and a stadium,” Mrs. Whalen said. “We would certainly discuss the possibility of obtaining tax relief from the state through the Tourism Bill, and we would probably look at bonding.”


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