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Movers & Shakers: Lancaster baseball stadium took teamwork of many groups

By , - Last modified: February 14, 2011 at 1:26 PM

An average of about 5,300 people poured into Clipper Magazine Stadium for each home game during the Lancaster Barnstormers’ inaugural season.

An average of about 5,300 people poured into Clipper Magazine Stadium for each home game during the Lancaster Barnstormers’ inaugural season. The fans came to see athletes play baseball, but the ballpark they enjoyed is a testimony to the efforts of a different sort of team.

Myriad economic-development groups, neighborhood organizations, government officials and businesses came together to make the Lancaster stadium a reality. Several observers agree that teamwork was vital to turning the once nearly dead ballpark project into a success.

“A whole variety of people stepped up to support the project,” said David Nikoloff, executive director of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County.

The EDC’s involvement in the project started in 2002 after residents’ opposition and controversies over zoning issues killed a plan to put a ballpark in Manheim Township. The stadium seemed to be dead once township commissioners withdrew their request for $10 million in state funds needed to build the stadium.

Yet, the stadium’s fortunes soon started improving. Representatives of the Lancaster Alliance, a local economic-development group, approached Norfolk Southern Corp. about selling approximately 11 acres of land in the northwest part of Lancaster. When the Norfolk, Va.-based railroad expressed interest in selling, the alliance asked EDC to buy the land so it could be redeveloped. EDC’s board agreed to buy the land with no guarantees that a ballpark would ever be built there, Nikoloff said.

“(The board) did that with only a hope that things would come together,” he said.

EDC eventually spent more than $1 million to acquire land for the ballpark site. The group later sold most of the land to the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, which became the ballpark’s developer and owner.

The redevelopment authority got involved when a group of people trying to keep the ballpark project alive asked the authority to take the job of securing state grant money for the ballpark. The authority agreed, and its role in the project grew.

There were two primary reasons why the authority agreed to take on the stadium project, said Randy Patterson, the authority’s executive director. First, the stadium has the potential to generate new revenue for the authority. Once the stadium’s debts are paid off in about 20 years, money generated by the Barnstormers’ lease payments will go directly to the authority. Second, the authority liked the idea of reusing old industrial land instead of building on undeveloped land.

“We weren’t particularly interested in it if it was going to be put in a greenfield,” Patterson said.

But the ballpark’s new location created its own set of challenges. The new stadium site offered little room for parking and was in the middle of a heavily residential neighborhood. The redevelopment authority started seeking organizations that would provide parking spaces to fans during the Barnstormers’ home games. Lancaster General Hospital, The Drogaris Cos. and HealthSouth Corp.’s Surgery Center of Lancaster were among the groups that agreed to offer parking to fans.

James Street Improvement District also played an invaluable role in forging strong ties between the authority and area residents, Patterson said. The district and the authority worked together to ensure that residents’ concerns about traffic and noise were considered as ballpark construction continued throughout 2004 and early 2005.

“Our interest was that the neighborhood was not forgotten,” said Lisa Riggs, executive director of the district, an organization working to improve Lancaster’s northwest neighborhood.

The district also worked to help local officials recognize that the ballpark was about more than sporting events. The district boosted the stadium’s profile as an economic-development tool by attracting new businesses and developers to the ballpark area.

The redevelopment authority, EDC and James Street Improvement District often get praise for their work on the ballpark, but Nikoloff, Patterson and Riggs acknowledged that the project could not have come together without the help of numerous other people and organizations. These contributors include the Barnstormers, county and city officials and businesses that agreed to lease luxury boxes at the stadium.

“It was one of the neatest collaborations,” Riggs said.

Nikoloff hopes similar cooperation can be attained in York so a ballpark can be built there. He’s looking forward to the rivalry between the York and Lancaster teams.

“Of course (York’s) stadium will never be as nice as ours,” Nikoloff said jokingly.

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