Winston-Salem is faced with the need to make $5 million in improvements to Truist Stadium, in response to facility standards issued by Major League Baseball.
In June, the Winston-Salem City Council approved hiring Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architecture to design the improvements, and Monday night the council approved adding almost $90,000 to the contract to design new administrative offices for the Winston-Salem Dash, which plays at the stadium.
The good news for the city is that the Dash will pay for the design and construction of their new administrative headquarters.
But that still leaves the city holding the bag for other stadium upgrades that include improvements to both the home and visiting team clubhouse areas, laundry and commissary improvements, separate and private locker rooms for female staff, coaches and umpires, a separate office for the visiting team manager and a second hitting and pitching tunnel that is protected from the elements.
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Playing field improvements will affect the height and slope of bullpen mounds, the wall height in the right field corner, field drainage and possibly lighting.
The city will pay for the stadium improvements with limited obligation bonds, a type of bond that does not require a vote by residents.
City officials say the new standards appear to have come down with MLB’s decision to downsize the number of minor league teams.
In late 2020, Major League Baseball axed some 40 minor-league teams around the county in a bid to reduce the number of teams to 120.
Winston-Salem leaders worried that the Dash might be among the teams lost when it emerged that the city was charging the Dash much more money for leasing the stadium than comparable teams in similar markets.
The city chopped the amount of the annual lease from $1.55 million to $750,000 and eliminated a $175,000 ticket surcharge the city was collecting. In turn, the city extended the lease term to 2046, and Mayor Allen Joines said the deal would still allow the city to recoup its investment.
Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe told council members in June that after MLB reduced the number of teams, the “survivors are required to upgrade their facilities to meet the new Major League Baseball standards.”
MLB officials assess penalty points to stadiums not making the grade, Rowe explained to city council members. The penalty here amounted to 115 points, he said.
“We have to get them down to 30 by the opening day of 2023,” he said.
City Manager Lee Garrity said Monday that he understands the city has to be making “substantial progress” on carrying out the upgrades by that time, to get out from under the MLB penalty.
Having approved the design of the upgrades in June, on Monday the city council approved increasing the payment to the architects so that they can design the team’s new administrative headquarters at the same time the other improvements are being carried out.
What’s different for the city is that the team, not the city, will pay for those additional costs. The actual amount it will take to build the new administrative headquarters has not been finalized.
The city’s experience with the stadium has been a series of unexpected costs, going back to 2009 when the city had to invest almost $16 million on top of its initial $12 million investment, after work on the stadium stalled. The city then became the sole owner of the ballpark and leased it back to the team for a 25-year term.
Play opened at the stadium in 2010.
In 2014, the financial arrangements changed again when new investors put $7 million into the financing, the city paid off a $13 million construction loan, and the lease term and lease payments both went up.