Thursday, May 24, 2001

Study calls baseball likely hit for Florence

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        FLORENCE — A University of Cincinnati study has concluded a minor league baseball franchise would boost Florence's economy by nearly $3 million a year.

        George Vredeveld of UC's College of Business crunched the numbers from his economic impact study at a special City Council meeting Wednesday. He said the team and fans would spend about $1.9 million, and Florence businesses would in turn spend another $1 million.

        Mr. Vredeveld's study identified only the amount of money he figures fans and team personnel would spend in Florence. He said the city would also take in more than $21,000 a year in payroll and property taxes.

        But when Councilwoman Melodee Merrell asked Mr. Vredeveld about the franchise's negative impacts, Mr. Vredeveld didn't have an answer.

        “An economic impact study is almost by necessity (focused) on positives,” Mr. Vredeveld said. “This isn't a feasibility study; it's only looking at the benefits.”

        Gary Enzweiler, an entrepreneur and Northern Kentucky native, owns rights to start a Frontier League team in Florence.

        How to pay for a 3,500- to 4,000-seat ballpark the team needs and what businesses would work near the park remain the city's biggest concerns. To answer those questions, the city has hired Brian Parker, manager of Convention Sports & Leisure, a Minneapolis consulting firm, to conduct a feasibility study he said would be ready by July.

        Mr. Enzweiler said the team could be ready for the 2002 baseball season, but Mayor Diane Whalen said she thinks 2003 is more reasonable.

        Until now, the only location for a ballpark has been 32 acres at the intersection of U.S. 42 and Dream Street near Interstate 75, where Frontier Fantasy is now. A second site was unveiled Wednesday — a 20-acre plot on the southeast corner of the Turfway Park race track.

        The U.S. 42 site has 1,000 parking spaces. The Turfway site has only 150, and City Coordinator Jeff Koenig said the team and city would have to work out an agreement with the track for parking.

        “I don't think there's anyone ... who would not love to have baseball in Florence,” Councilman Mel Carroll said. “What it gets down to is, how do you make it happen?”

        The Turfway site also has a geographical problem — it lies next to what is called a “blue line stream,” an area where wildlife lives and plants grow. Mr. Koenig said if more than 200 feet of the stream are taken for a ballpark, the city or team would have to pay the state Environmental Protection Agency or replace the material taken.


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