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Home » Baseball News

Will we save Loeb Stadium?

June 9, 2013
Lafayette Jefferson High School

Like hundreds of baseball players before him, Lafayette Jeff senior Keaton Hamilton grew up with a reverence for Loeb Stadium.

“When I was a little kid I remember coming to the Colt World Series games, and I thought this was a big-league stadium,” said Hamilton, who likely played his final games at the stadium last weekend while helping the Bronchos win their first regional championship since 1987.

“The first time I remember stepping on it, it was the coolest thing ever. Playing on it every day is amazing. It’s just a beautiful stadium, and I’m just glad I had the chance to go to Jeff and be a part of it.”

For generations of players and fans, Loeb Stadium has served as a cornerstone for a community rich with baseball history. Its lights and sounds have filled summer nights in the Columbian Park neighborhood since 1940.

But while memories have accumulated in the concrete and steel structure along Main Street, so have the effects of age, use and weather. Concrete is cracking and chipping in some areas. Open the door to an unused locker room, and a damp, musty stench rolls out.

Though regular maintenance has extended the stadium’s life into an eighth decade, a recent feasibility study commissioned by the Department of Parks and Recreation suggests more substantial repairs are necessary in the near future — and at a significant cost.

City officials and parks board members are in the early stages of assessing the future of one of Lafayette’s most recognizable landmarks. Mayor Tony Roswarski and Parks Superintendent Ted Bumbleburg will meet with members of the parks board and the committee it established to oversee Loeb Stadium issues on Wednesday to discuss the feasibility study and possibly recommend a next step.

“It’s timeless,” said Todd Dunwoody, who played at Loeb with Harrison High School and in the Colt World Series prior to his six-year Major League career.

“People who don’t even necessarily care so much for baseball definitely go in and take a peek or visit the zoo and the rides at the mini amusement park there. Everybody takes an interest. You’re on a date at the Frozen Custard and you see the lights and know something is going on and stroll on over.”

73 years and counting

Bert and Joan Loeb donated $50,000 to construct the 3,500-seat stadium in honor of Solomon Loeb, Bert’s father and co-founder of Loeb Department Store, a Lafayette fixture from 1870 to 1987.

Dedicated in 1940 as the Columbian Park Recreational Center and renamed Loeb Stadium in 1971, the venue has hosted all levels of baseball, from minor league professional franchises — remember the Lafayette Leopards? — to Lafayette Jeff High School and American Legion Post 11 games to the annual Colt World Series tournament.

When it wasn’t hosting baseball games, Loeb Stadium was home to everything from fireworks displays to horse shows.

“It was more of a community center,” said Central Catholic coach Tim Bordenet, who played in the stadium. “Obviously the Colt World Series being there, there’s people in the community that come out that may not necessarily have an interest in the actual baseball games going on, but it’s an event — it’s a community event that draws a lot of people together. To lose that, I think, would be a tremendous loss for our community.”

The parks department has not charged its amateur baseball tenants for use of the stadium. While the city website lists rental fees of $200 without lights or $300 with lights, Bumbleburg said the facility is only rented out “a couple of times” per year.

Lafayette Jeff gives concession profits to a fund used to pay for stadium upkeep. Bumbleburg said Colt World Series organizers have also contributed to purchases of equipment.

The mayor compares Loeb Stadium to Tropicanoe Cove and other recreational facilities that seldom generate enough revenue to cover expenses.

“Those are amenities you build for the community, to provide a nice place to live,” Roswarski said.

If the city goes forward with a restoration project or renovation, it would not be the stadium’s first. One such project stretched from 1986 to 1997 and included sandblasting and repairing the stadium exterior, installing new stands, dugouts and a press box, improving locker rooms and opening the concession stand.

The last significant repairs to Loeb were made in 2004-05, prior to the stadium hosting the Indiana High School Athletic Association state championship games for the fourth time and serving as a temporary home for the Ohio Valley Redcoats of the Frontier League. The $200,000 project included structural improvements — steel beams to reinforce the concrete grandstand — a complete infield revitalization and a new irrigation system.

The work ahead

Roswarski said those improvements were expected to last about a decade, so the parks board commissioned a feasibility study fromKJG Architecture Inc. of West Lafayette. According to KJG’s report, the study included interviews with board members and others associated with the stadium, inspections of Loeb and visits toParkview Field in Fort Wayne and Coveleski Stadium in South Bend.

KJG’s study covers many aspects, from essential repairs necessary to maintain structural integrity to exterior cosmetic improvements. In its initial draft, KJG outlined four potential options for Loeb Stadium:

• Perform essential repairs and construct usable locker rooms. This would extend the stadium’s life three to five years at an estimated cost of $345,000 to $445,000.

• Perform essential repairs while adding and remodeling certain stadium amenities, extending stadium life 10 to 15 years at a cost of $1.3 million to $1.8 million.

• Complete renovation, extending stadium life a minimum of 25 years at a cost of $2.9 million to $4.5 million.

• Demolish and rebuild the stadium at Columbian Park at a cost loosely estimated at $10 million to $30 million.

“When you go underneath, a lot of it is just worn down,” said Lafayaette Jeff coach Scott McTagertt, also a former Broncho and Colt World Series player. “It’s old. It’s been around and seen its day. So I wasn’t surprised when I saw the numbers. How they’re going to get that money, I have no idea. I hope they do.

“It’s great coming over here. My kids get to come over here and watch baseball, then they go to the playground, then they go to the zoo. I’d like other people to be able to do that.”

In making a cost-benefit analysis, KJG recommended only the first (essential repairs/locker rooms) or third (stadium renovation) options. The second option provided only minimal upgrades relative to the cost. Due to the size limitations of the current stadium grounds, KJG suggested a new site should be chosen if the city is interested in a new stadium.

KJG’s report suggests option one would extend the stadium’s life “only another 3 to 5 years until the stadium is taken out of service or until a new stadium can be built elsewhere.” Roswarski and parks board members see option one as a chance to buy time for further study of, and possible fundraising for, a larger renovation project.

“It’s always about progress and making progress,” Bumbleburg said. “With anything we do here we look at the options and ask, how do we get more use out of Loeb Stadium? What other things can we bring to the stadium and do by making some of the changes that are in the proposal?”

How to pay for it

While stressing that no decisions have been made about a possible Loeb Stadium repair project, Roswarski said the city could likely cover the costs associated with some version of option one. He and parks board president Dave Mecklenburg both said private funds might be necessary for a larger-scale renovation. Other funding options could include the use of economic development income tax funds and tax increment finance proceeds.

When the city recently consolidated the Creasy-Treece and Central TIF districts to take in the former Home Hospital site, which is being redeveloped just north of Columbian Park, the TIF district boundaries were drawn to include the park and Loeb Stadium.

“It dramatically changes the funding options that might be available for Columbian Park,” Roswarski said. The economic climate for a large-scale project is better than when repairs were conducted a decade ago, he said.

In a TIF district, property taxes collected from new development is set aside in a fund that can be used for economic development projects within the district.

School, city partnership

Lafayette Jeff has an open-ended agreement with the city wherein it is granted use of Loeb Stadium and the city is allowed to use Lafayette School Corp. facilities if needed. Preston said the long-term concept of other athletic construction at the school included the eventual building of a junior varsity field on campus, though no plans are currently in place for such a project.

Preston said that hypothetical venue could then be converted to a varsity field if Loeb Stadium could no longer be used. He said the demolition of Pythian Home created more space for athletic expansion if needed.

“The last thing we want to happen is somewhere down road, whether it’s five years or 10 years, for some structural engineer to come in and say ‘this facility is not safe’ at Leob and us not have anywhere to play,” Preston said.

Estimates of the Colt World Series’ economic impact vary. Jo Wade, president of Visit Lafayette-West Lafayette, estimated revenues from hotel usage and daily expenses for visiting teams and parents to be just over $300,000. Lafayette Colt Tournaments, Inc. president Tim Clark last year estimated the 2012 tournament’s total impact at $1.5 million.

Parks board members echoed Roswarski’s statement that the stadium should not be considered a revenue-producing entity. However, because of the cost estimates received, they agree the decisions ahead of them are not easy ones.

“Unless I’ve misread the community, I think people would like to see a facility at the park and they would like it to have baseball,” said parks board member Maurie Denney, also a former Lafayette Jeff athletic director. “It’s a tradition in Lafayette. It’s something they would probably like to continue if there’s some way we can do that financially. I think the financial question is the big thing.”

Roswarski said the economic climate now is better suited for a large scale renovation than when the city opted for more modest improvements in 2004. The city no longer faces the debt it did when he took office in 2003, and a better economy could also help facilitate private donations or corporate sponsorships.

Committing money to the stadium for extensive renovations might also lead to finding additional events or teams to play at Loeb Stadium.

“Are there other uses for stadium — other teams that can be brought in, tournaments?” Roswarski said. “Can it be designed in a way that can be used more often?”

In the meantime, Post 11 and the Colt World Series will continue their summer traditions at the park. Local residents like Tony Albrecht, who grew up attending and playing in games at Loeb and now watches his son Austin play there for Lafayette Jeff, hope to continue sharing those memories through the generations.

“When it hits home for me is when we go to another community and people ask you where your home stadium is and you say ‘Loeb Stadium’ and they say, ‘Oh, I love that place,’ ” Albrecht said.

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