BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
After months, if not years, of anticipation, Bakersfield got the good news Thursday: a new ballpark is firmly in the works. Owners of the Bakersfield Blaze unveiled plans for a privately financed, 3,500-seat stadium that would become the first-phase centerpiece of the Bakersfield Commons mixed-use development project at Coffee and Brimhall roads. Construction is expected to begin early next year and the ballpark could open in 2014, although not necessarily by the start of the baseball season. The $20 million stadium essentially would replace the county’s aging Sam Lynn Ballpark with a family-oriented facility to be accompanied eventually by new restaurants, retail and entertainment such as a new movie theater. “The idea of this is to be more than just a baseball field,” said Gene Voiland, a prominent local oil executive who together with Bakersfield oilman Chad Hathaway purchased the Blaze last spring. “We are putting together an entertainment complex.” If approved as proposed, the 15-acre project would crown decades of sometimes frustrating negotiations aimed at giving Bakersfield a new baseball stadium. It would also comprise the “anchor tenant” considered key to attracting retail tenants to the 255-acre Bakersfield Commons project. While the stadium would present new opportunities — it is expected to become a venue for concerts and, potentially, Cal State Bakersfield baseball — it also carries financial risks for the team’s new owners. By their own estimate, the new stadium will have to draw an average of 2,500 spectators per game, or about five times the typical Blaze home game at Sam Lynn. The expectation is that the project will bring The Blaze into the black financially, the team owners said Thursday.
The team hopes to sell advertising at the stadium and offer naming rights. There would also be up to eight executive suites, as well as lower priced seating on grassy berms, together increasing capacity by 1,500 people. The Blaze will move its offices and training facilities to the site, and roughly double its full-time staff to as many as 20 employees. Many will be assigned to develop non-baseball revenue opportunities, Blaze General Manager Elizabeth Martin indicated. Voiland and Hathaway disclosed their plans to The Californian Thursday morning, shortly before filing for a conditional use permit with the city of Bakersfield. They predicted that the stadium’s light, noise and traffic impacts will not bother area residents or present additional hurdles to city approval of the larger Bakersfield Commons project. Upon receiving the team’s permit request Thursday afternoon, city staff scheduled a Dec. 11 hearing before the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustments to consider what amounts to an adjustment of the project’s existing approval. Rhonda Smiley, assistant to Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy, who was away from the office Thursday, said city staff are “enthused” about working with The Blaze on the stadium. “Obviously the city … has been … long interested in bringing baseball — professional baseball — to a higher level in Bakersfield, in terms of an improved stadium,” Smiley said.
Some of the stadium’s groundwork is already in place. The Blaze has signed a 20-year, renewable lease with World Oil Corp., the property’s owner and developer of the Bakersfield Commons project. The team has also hired two separate architectural firms – Pendulum Studio, a Kansas City, Mo. – based firm with experience designing sports stadiums; and Fresno’s Teter Architects & Engineers. The builder is to be Bakersfield-based Wallace & Smith General Contractors. The project’s real estate adviser is Grubb & Ellis – ASU & Associates in Bakersfield. How the project will be paid for is less clear. The team’s owners declined to discuss details of the necessary financing, saying only that no public money will be involved and that they are looking for local investors to help them move forward with the stadium. World Oil representatives said they see the project as key to kick-starting Bakersfield Commons, which wouldn’t begin building about 300,000 square feet of adjacent retail and restaurant space until about the time the stadium opens. Residential and office development would follow later. “The Blaze stadium is the perfect catalyst to get this started,” World Oil principal Robert Roth said in a written statement. Access to the stadium would come largely from the Coffee Road exit of the Westside Parkway, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2012. Baseball fans will find some 830 parking spaces spread over eight acres. Ticket prices have not yet been established but are expected to vary between $9 and $11 depending on where in the stadium the seat is located. Voiland said tickets won’t cost as much as $20. “It’s still going to be family-priced entertainment,” he said.