What your $40 million might get you

If indeed the mayor's supposed plan to build the Nashville Sounds a stadium in Sulphur Dell comes closer to fruition, we'll get an idea of what, exactly, the $40 million stadium will look like.

For now, all we've got is speculation and comparison.

Let's take a look at what's been happening with minor-league parks around the country.

Given its proximity and its growing threat to our Itness, plenty of folks are asking what it would take for Nashville to mimic Memphis' AutoZone Park, considered one of minor-league baseball's best. Unfortunately, the Memphis Redbirds are sui generis, owned by the nonprofit Memphis Redbirds Foundation, which bought the team from a previous owner, which issued massive amount of debt to build the stadium. (Here's a good run down from the Memphis Business Journal.) In any event, AutoZone Park cost more than $80 million to build in 1998 — inflation-adjusted to $107 million. It was built to "major league" specifications and seats more than 14,000 people. It is not really comparable to what could happen here.

Nor should Nashville look to Columbus, Ohio, where the Clippers play in 2009's Ballpark of the Year, Huntington Park, a $70 million project that seats more than 10,000. Similarly, Birmingham's new Regions Field came in with a $64 million price tag.

In fact, in the last decade or so most every ballpark built in the $40 million range has been at the AA level.

One exception is from a fellow PCL team. The Omaha Storm Chasers' Werner Park, which opened in 2011, was built for $36 million ($36.7 million in 2013 dollars):

 

 
The park seats more than 9,000 — though 3,000 of that is on a grass berm in the outfield. The beyond-the-fences area also includes a carousel, basketball court and whiffleball fields. Native Nebraska limestone chunks serve as benches on the concourse and as amphitheater seating in the outfield. The two-story suite section is decked in glass and wood-paneling.

Down in AA, The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home to the Southern League's Suns, opened in 2003 with a $34 million price tag, $42 million in today's dollars:

 

 
The park is the largest in AA, seating 6,000 in stadium seats with space for roughly 5,000 more on berm seating (near the lower right hand side of the photo above) and in bleachers. Built around a desanctified 115-year-old church, the park is decked out in brick, tucked between the city's football stadium and its arena. The stands are almost completely roofed (which, as anyone who visits Florida's First Coast can attest, is a must because of the area's propensity for pop-up storms) and if you look closely at the center field fence (a whopping 420 feet from home, by the way) you can see that a section of it is chain-linked for a field-level view of the action).

Over in the Texas League, the Arkansas Travelers play at the $40.4 million ($44.7 million in today's dollars) Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock:

 

 
Sitting at the foot of a bridge and offering cross-river views of downtown Little Rock, the park seats nearly 5,300 with room for 2,500 more on the outfield berms. (Sense a theme?) North Little Rock was a railroad town and the design of Dickey-Stephens emphasizes that, as noted by BaseballParks.com, which named the park its best in its debut year of 2007. It also has an old-style organ, right on the concourse!

Finally, there's ONEOK Field in Tulsa. The Drillers began play at the $39.2 million ($41.3 million infaltion-adjusted) stadium in 2010. Designed by Populous, the sports-architecture giants that did Nashville's ballpark location study, it is tucked into Tulsa's urban center. Previously, the Drillers played near the city's fairgrounds.

 

 
Sitting in the city's Greenwood District, ONEOK mimics the art-deco architecture of its neighborhood, a historically African-American center of commerce that was also the location of the eponymous Greenwood Riots, one of the worst race riots it American history. It seats 7,833 and is part of a broader development plan for the area, which totals roughly $60 million all told. The park includes several higher-end restaurants, a playground, lots of grass seating and some of the closest-to-the-action seating in minor-league baseball. Unusually, a lot of the metal used isn't the typical steel, but zinc. Also, the ballpark had an usual (and frankly, controversial) financing plan. From BaseballParks:

Like most cities, Tulsa didn't have a lot of extra money, so an unusual arrangement was devised to pay for the $60 million project. $30 million would come from private donations (that were solicited based on the premise that the the park would spur economic development downtown), $5 million from the Drillers' lease and the remainder from a very controversial assessment fee imposed on downtown property owners. Those business owners were none too pleased with these new fees, which the city insisted wasn't a tax. Helping to ease the situation during the tough economic times of recent years, a $25 million revenue bond was acquired from the Tulsa Stadium Trust, which was set up to own and operate the ballpark, by the Tulsa Community Foundation. This bond will be repaid as downtown businesses pay the annual assessments over time.

Given the trends and the cost, we can expect a 7,000- to 8,000-seat stadium (the Populous study, in its 204-page glory, can be found here and projected 8,400 seats), with perhaps extra room on the berms. That could be close to the 11,000 projected for the proposed "First Tennessee Field" at the Thermal Plant site. It'd be easy to compare Nashville's situation with Tulsa — moving from an aging mammoth to a cozier confine closer to the city — and its not a bad place to look. Don't hold your breath for $30 million in "private donations," though the talking points in the last 18 hours or so have been that the Sounds will foot a "significant" portion of the stadium price tag.

A caveat on costs: the cost of the Music City Center dropped because labor and materials were cheaper as the project was built in a down economy. That's unusual enough to be noteworthy, as large civic projects almost never come in cheaper or, frankly, even near projections. As the economy has improved, labor costs and material costs will go up. Even if projected at $40 million, the final price could prove much higher indeed.