A couple of weeks back we learned that United League Baseball would be setting up shop on the shores of the Trinity River, in the very same 60-acre spot where Irving-based JPI abandoned its own ambitious plans. So happens that at 3:30 p.m. today, ULB co-founders John Bryant and Byron Pierce are meeting with their architects to finalize their abbreviated time line that has them throwing out the first pitch by next season.
"In my mind, I hope we begin construction mid- to late summer," Pierce tells Unfair Park this morning. "I'm probably going to be told that today. That'll give us plenty of time to build it. I don't want to get into January and have five months to build it and face that squeeze." The W.W. Samuell High grad -- about whom I wrote 10 years ago, as he was reviving the Fort Worth Cats and LaGrave Field -- says he and Bryant have built ballparks on short notice before, including Price Cutter Park in Ozark, Missouri, which is currently without a team.
Two weeks ago, there had been a report that Oak Cliff developer Richard Seib and Bryant and Pierce's Reunion Sports Group hadn't yet bought the property out of foreclosure. Pierce dismisses the piece as a hit piece "written by a competitor for a minor-league rag" and says the Seib has indeed acquired the land. That's the reason Bryant and Pierce are confident Dallas is soon to have its own minor-league team -- because, unlike 2007's failed, forgotten efforts to bring minor-league baseball to downtown, Seib "has the property now," Pierce says. "We didn't then. And property is the key."
Pierce, incidentally, tells Unfair Park that the ballpark will go as planned regardless of Saturday's vote on the convention center hotel. He insists that the April 22 press release wasn't timed to coincide with referendum -- they just wanted to get it out there sooner than later to begin marketing and ticket sales, which Pierce says will commence shortly.
Of course, having a hotel there wouldn't hurt ...
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"It would help a little bit if it were to be passed because of the amount of people it would bring in," he says. "And there will be overflow into the amenities we would provide outside of baseball," including a mixed-use development and a water park. "But it doesn't tie into the vote. We just made the announcement to get this thing on track."
As for what the ballpark is going to look like, well, that conceptual rendering is but a glimpse, he says -- an aerial shot that doesn't offer a look at the park's frontage. Because, at the moment, they're not sure what it will look like, only that it will blend in with the rest of the surrounding development. Today, he says, they may have a better idea of how the pieces of the puzzle will fit together.
At the same time Bryant and Pierce are moving forward with the ballpark, Seib's working with the city's Office of Economic Development; its director, Karl Zavitkovsky , will meet with the group this month. (Zavitkovsky 's been in meetings all morning and was unavailable to talk.) But Pierce insists this deal's going to happen -- after 17 years of trying to bring minor-league baseball to Dallas.
"We've been looking in the Dallas area since 1992, 1993," he says. "We looked at the old Burnett Field site for a while, and that was unavailable. ... We worked with Dick on that, and when he got this [property], we hopped in the wagon with him. Independent baseball and affiliated baseball are very prosperous these days. There hasn't been a decline in minor large baseball in 15 years. And it's catching hold in larger cities. Used to be they'd be in cities like San Angelo and Amarillo. But teams in Chicago and St. Louis are doing bustling business now. And just look at Frisco. The populations are so strong. The only difference is the marketing. The big-league teams get front page coverage. Here, you have to fight for every inch of media."