Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Florence warms to baseball team

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        FLORENCE — City leaders said Monday they will welcome an independent minor league baseball team in Boone County if the city and franchise owner can figure out how to pay for a new ballpark.

        Monday's announcement was the first time since the idea of minor league baseball in Florence came up last year that city officials have come out in favor of a team. Until now, council has said it was studying the situation.

        Gary Enzweiler, the entre preneur and Northern Kentucky native who owns the rights to the Frontier League franchise, could not be reached for comment Monday.

        The move was the highlight of a council retreat last weekend in Lexington that included a baseball game at Applebees Park, home of the Lexington Legends, a Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros.

        Mayor Diane Whalen said wanting a team is a big first step to reaching an agree ment with Mr. Enzweiler, but there are major questions still to be answered.

        “What happens if it's not successful?” Ms. Whalen said. “Cautious is the best way to describe the concern. We just have to come to something comfortable to the city and the franchise.”

        Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee called Florence's decision “wonderful, wonderful news.”

        “I have every confidence the city and the ownership group will be able to work out a suitable agreement for all parties involved,” Mr. Lee said.

        Ms. Whalen said City Attorney Hugh O. Skees is drafting a document that outlines what the city wants in terms of financing the ballpark.

        Last month, Mr. Enzweiler stuck with a proposal that calls for the city to pay 65 percent of an estimated $5.5 million for a 3,500- to 4,000-seat park near U.S. 42 and Dream Street, where Frontier Fantasy is now.

        Councilman Mel Carroll was impressed with the way Legends officials paid for their ballpark.

        “We were extremely impressed by that operation and that (it) was 100 percent privately financed,” Mr. Carroll said. “We recognize the financial limitations of Mr. Enzweiler and the Frontier League. At the same time we recognize the financial limitations of the city of Florence. We want to work with Mr. Enzweiler in a partnership arrangement to see if we can bring baseball to Florence.”

        A feasibility study last month by the Minneapolis consulting firm Conventions, Sports & Leisure stated some 101,000 fans could be expected to attend Florence games during a 42-home game season. In May, a University of Cincinnati study concluded that fans would pump $1.9 million into the local economy per season.

        Mr. Enzweiler has said the team could be ready for the 2002 season, but Ms. Whalen has said the 2003 season is a more reasonable goal.


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