The Springfield Lucky Horseshoes have $10 million in ideas about how to improve Robin Roberts Stadium.
But the question is: Who will pay for it?
"First and foremost, it starts with the ownership group," said Jamie Toole, an executive and an owner of the team. "Our ownership group has shown a commitment and a willingness to invest, such as in the video board and beer garden. We've done a few things on our own. Second, the owner of the building needs to engage."
The ballpark is owned by the Springfield Park District.
Park Board President Leslie Sgro said Jan. 21 that neither she nor other members of the board have seen the proposal that Toole is advocating. She added that it originates from an architectural study jointly funded by the Horseshoe ownership and the Park Board.
Joe Petty, an architect and the owner of J.H. Petty and Associates in Springfield, completed the renderings of proposed renovations. He said the cost of the study was $17,500.
"It's kind of a broad overview of what's possible without really getting down and dirty into the weeds," Petty said.
"I'm hoping that the board will see it in February," Sgro said. "It was a joint project between the Horseshoes and the Park District. So, we each kicked in money to do this. We offered to let them take the lead – sort of driving the bus on it – but our first preliminary meeting between the Shoes and (Park District) staff, not even the board, is Feb. 7."
Sgro added that she and the rest of the board want to see the stadium flourish.
"They're excited and that's a good thing," she said. "Any improvements at Robin Roberts are a good thing. And that's why we've invested money ... I'm all for improvements for the stadium. We just have to figure out a responsible way to pay for them."
Sgro added, "We're partnering with District 186 to help the Shoes get more parking, which I think is a critical component to their success. And we can work with various partners to make the Shoes successful in Springfield."
Taxpayer dollars from the Park District will need to be part of the equation, Toole said.
"I'm not saying they underwrite the entire project, or even half," Toole said. "I'm saying (they) have to engage. You own the facility. And, you know, from our perspective, there's resources that they have access to that they have not allocated to Robin Roberts Stadium. And for whatever reason, I just think that the ballpark has not been a priority."
Toole said there are other sources of money that need to be explored such as private and government grants. Another possible funding source would be selling the naming rights to the stadium, he said.
The stadium is named after Robin Evan Roberts, a Springfield native and Lanphier High School graduate. He was a major league pitcher and an inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"This is something that we're trying to handle with kid gloves because we have such great respect for Robin Roberts and that family and the tradition. But the reality is a lot of ballparks are maintained and improved with a naming rights partnership," Toole said. "So, it may be Dublin Pub Field at Robin Roberts Stadium or something like that. But that could be a significant annual contribution that goes into the facility that helps go toward these enhancements and these improvements."
Special state funding may also be sought.
"When you can get the local leadership – meaning the mayor, the city council, the park board, the local politicians – pulling on the same rope, on the same side, then I think you are positioning a project that the state says, 'Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. It's the capital city, let's go make this thing happen,'" Toole said. "We basically try to look at every different opportunity to get resources into this facility to create more of a long-term, sustainable facility."
But what improvements do the Horseshoes believe are needed to have a sustainable facility?
The architectural renderings speak more in broad strokes than fine details. Even the $10 million figure is at best a guesstimate, Toole said. He added the improvements would likely come in a series of phases.
"(Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility, restrooms and concession stands – those are priorities," he said. Since the team's inception, the Horseshoes have said these aspects of the stadium are in dire need of renovations.
Other proposed changes for Robin Roberts Stadium include a new turf field, enhanced lighting, an improved concourse, a brick facade and having a new fan section on right field.
Toole said new turf is critical.
"I think that the field turf is probably the economic driver from our perspective," he said.
"When you're going to recruit bigger events – you want to go get University of Illinois to play University of Missouri in an annual baseball game or series – you need to have these modern amenities to go and create the revenue generation to turn those schools' attention to say, 'Yeah, let's go to Springfield.'"