Bob Lutz

Wingnuts' Lawrence-Dumont announcement could be a jump start

I’m still reeling from Thursday’s announcement that this will be the final year for Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. 

It’s not so much the content of the announcement that has me flummoxed, but the origin. It came in a post on the Wichita Wingnuts’ website. 

For almost a year now, Mayor Jeff Longwell has been talking about his attempt to bring affiliated minor-league baseball back to Wichita in a new ballpark. The mayor has assured Wichitans the reward will justify the wait. 

Apparently, the Wingnuts became tired of waiting. So, based on what they say have been private conversations with city officials, they went ahead and announced that the 84-year-old stadium by the Arkansas River, arguably Wichita’s most-famous landmark, will no longer exist past the Wingnuts’ 2018 season. 

Longwell and other city officials haven’t shed much light on the subject. But I can assure you, they were not expecting this announcement Thursday, nor were they expecting it to come from the Wingnuts. 

The announcement has further confused an already confounding situation. 

Longwell said last year that an announcement on a new stadium and affiliated baseball would be coming early in 2018. It never did. It still hasn’t. 

His explanation is that negotiations with a potential owner of a new franchise are delicate and that instead of saying too much, it was time for him to say little to nothing. 

The presumption is that those talks with a prospective owner are ongoing and that plans for a new stadium are hidden away in a safe place. 

But we don’t know. And the longer we don’t know – after being told we would know – the more doubt we have. 

The Wingnuts, who may or may not exist after the 2018 season, obviously see a chance to sell tickets by promoting Lawrence-Dumont’s final season. The ballpark was built in 1934 so, obviously, people are going to want to spend some time there to watch baseball and to reflect on all the times they’ve spent at L-D. 

While the Wingnuts’ announcement was awkward and, you could argue, out of place, it’s understandable that a combination of frustration and impatience led them to jump the gun. 

And perhaps it will jolt Longwell and other city officials into more of a sense of urgency. Undoubtedly, the process isn’t going as smoothly as Longwell had hoped. But is this just a bump in the road or is the prospect of a new ballpark and affiliated baseball in real danger? 

My sense is the former, but citizens who are craving a new venue, affiliated minor league baseball at either the Double-A or Triple-A level and a massive renovation of the area around the ballpark, something that has also been forwarded as more than just a dream, are ready for something concrete. 

And for some new concrete to replace a ballpark that can’t be put back together again. 

Lawrence-Dumont is far past its prime and the city would be doing the right thing by razing the stadium and building something new. It can apparently do so with revenue from STAR bonds, a financial mechanism in which the city borrows money for public improvements and pays it back from increased sales taxes generated by the increased commerce. 

But, again, details are in short supply, a reality the Wingnuts’ announcement Thursday brought once again into clear focus. 

The Wingnuts stepped up to fill a void after the Double-A Wichita Wranglers left town after the 2007 for a sweeter offer in Northwest Arkansas. At the time, Wichita’s city officials were reluctant to do much of anything to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which since 1935 has been home to the National Baseball Congress World Series. 

Longwell has been mayor for just more than three years and in that time, downtown Wichita’s look has changed and its vibrancy increased. 

Lawrence-Dumont is a huge piece of Longwell’s downtown vision and one he is fighting for. But the fight has turned a little dirtier, I believe, than he anticipated. And it has for sure taken longer. 

Hopefully, the mayor can clear up the many unanswered questions. He’s been forthcoming and accessible in the past, to his credit. 

But Thursday’s announcement blew the lid off. It came out of nowhere. This is going to be Lawrence-Dumont’s last season? Well, if you believe the Wingnuts it is. 

So now what? 

My hope is that Longwell can convince whomever he’s negotiating with that now would be a pretty good time to announce whatever it is that’s going to be announced in terms of a new affiliation. 

And that rolling out plans for a new stadium would be a pretty good thing, sooner rather than later. 

I sense strong support for both a new stadium and a return of affiliated minor-league baseball, but I also sense frustration that this is taking so long. 

The Wingnuts may have jumped the gun with Thursday’s announcement, but at least somebody did something. 


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