They say if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one (Boise State tactics this year notwithstanding). Does the same rule apply to downtown baseball stadiums?
That question is coming up as skeptics and opponents challenge the viability of a proposal to build a Downtown Boise stadium. Doubts about the project intensified Thursday when Boise State University announced that it would not be a tenant of the stadium. Instead, BSU wants to build its own stadium for a future baseball team.
That caused some observers to scratch their heads. It seems silly to build two stadiums when there’s a question about the demand for one. Looking at the projects separately changes the calculation, though, because a BSU stadium would serve its own purposes.
“We are in the middle of the hiring process for our baseball head coach, and an on-campus stadium will be a major selling point — both to the individual we ultimately hire, and to the future student-athletes that will be recruited to Boise State,” Athletic Director Curt Apsey said in a statement.
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Though some players would be more excited about a brand-new minor league stadium, having its own facility would give BSU flexibility to include or exclude certain amenities for players, fans and the media. Boise State also could build a practice field near its game-day stadium to reduce turf wear.
What BSU meant to the project
The impact of BSU’s announcement on the stadium proposal seems to be two-pronged.
First, would activity on BSU’s field reduce crowds at the professional field?
That seems unlikely. College and minor league schedules don’t overlap much, so fans who just want to watch a game wouldn’t have to choose between them. College baseball isn’t a big draw for the general public anyway. A feasibility study commissioned by the city of Boise estimated that the average BSU baseball game would draw maybe 1,000 spectators to the minor league stadium. The Boise Hawks, minor league soccer, concerts and festivals were all forecast to draw far more.
It is possible that BSU would compete with the stadium for irregular events such as youth baseball games. That would limit income for the minor league stadium, but only slightly. The feasibility study anticipates just eight “other sports” events a year, with a total combined attendance of 4,000 people.
The BSU decision’s second impact appears more serious. The suggested method to pay for building the minor league stadium wouldn’t compete with any BSU fundraising, but can the minor league stadium survive without the university as a tenant?
BSU’s lease payments were anticipated to be around $400,000 a year, according to documents the Idaho Statesman acquired in May. That number aligns with the findings of the feasibility study.
BSU’s withdrawal looks like a big loss, considering the same study anticipated an average net operating income of less than $750,000 per year.
But the study also expected it would cost more to operate the stadium with BSU as a tenant. Losing Boise State means just a $169,000 cut to net operating income and a lower but still healthy profit margin, according to the feasibility study.
Of course, none of this answers the question of whether building two stadiums is a wise use of public resources based on the Treasure Valley’s total demand. That’s a different argument altogether.
Feasibility study too rosy?
Skeptics and opponents doubt the stadium would bring in the kind of money it needs to stay afloat.
And they worry, because public money is at stake. The city of Boise and the Greater Boise Auditorium District would contribute millions in cash, and Boise’s urban renewal agency would borrow tens of millions to build the stadium. If anticipated income from professional baseball, soccer and other activities failed to materialize, those public investments could fall flat.
Gary Michael, co-chair of anti-stadium group Concerned Boise Taxpayers, told the auditorium district’s board of directors Thursday that he thinks the feasibility study’s numbers are too rosy on both the cost and revenue sides. That’s partly why he thinks the stadium project is too risky.
Sean Garretson, an Austin, Texas-based planning consultant working with Concerned Boise Taxpayers, put some specifics to that claim Friday in a conversation with the Idaho Statesman. Garretson thinks the feasibility study undershoots the stadium’s cost by estimating that per-square-foot construction will cost 9 percent less than nationwide averages. There’s no reason to believe construction in Boise is less expensive than in other markets, he said, and many experts he’s talked to say projects actually cost more here.
On the revenue side, Garretson said, most of the study’s assumptions look reasonable, if vague, at first glance. But there’s no guarantee at all that a professional soccer team will come to Boise if the stadium is built.
Garretson also wants to see more details on the proposal, including specifics on proposed infrastructure upgrades, traffic flow, timing of private projects that would prop up the stadium and whether the area around the proposed stadium site warrants establishment of a new urban renewal district.
“At this point, it seems to be a highly speculative deal,” Garretson said.
Soccer, not BSU, is key
A Boise stadium almost certainly would need a professional soccer tenant, something even proponents acknowledge. The feasibility study suggests a slightly negative average net income with both BSU baseball and professional soccer out of the picture.
And there’s the example of a similar project in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Parkview Field, built in downtown Fort Wayne by the same developer behind the Boise plan, draws a lot of people and has been regularly cited as a comparable project. But the Fort Wayne TinCaps play a longer season than the Boise Hawks, a Class A short-season team.
Local high school baseball teams play once a year at Parkview Field, a stadium representative said Friday, but the TinCaps are its only regular sports tenant. If the TinCaps had averaged the same crowds this year on a short-season schedule like Boise’s (a big assumption given Fort Wayne’s early-season weather), they would have drawn a total of about 225,000 fans instead of 415,000 — a Parkview Field record.
In Boise, a pro soccer team would play 15 home matches a year — not enough to make up the difference in the number of sporting events at the stadium. But on average, those matches would draw more fans per game than baseball games, the feasibility study predicts. The Treasure Valley’s soccer community is convinced that’s a realistic expectation.
Together, professional baseball and soccer would bring in an average yearly attendance of 174,300, according to the study’s projections. Those crowds, plus attendees of dozens of other activities — youth sports, concerts and festivals — would average more than 200,000 per year. That would be enough to turn a profit.
Parkview hosted 650 total events in 2016, according to the feasibility study.