Nine years ago, on her first day as president of the James Street Improvement District, Lisa Riggs met with Lancaster's then-Mayor Charlie Smithgall.
Among other things, they discussed Clipper Magazine Stadium, a project the city had recently green-lighted for a former industrial property along North Prince Street.
That began an involvement for Riggs that has continued to this day, and it is about to become a full-time endeavor. On May 21, she will become president of the Lancaster Barnstormers, the minor league baseball team that calls Clipper its home.
“We are overjoyed that Lisa has agreed to join our organization,” said team President and CEO Jon Danos.
Danos also is president and chief operating officer of Opening Day Partners, the Lancaster-based company that owns and operates the Barnstormers, the York Revolution and several other minor league baseball teams.
As president, “Lisa is here to run the team,” said Danos. He will remain CEO. Handing off the team presidency to her will free him to focus on other initiatives, such as a league expansion project in Texas, he said.
The JSID board, meanwhile, appointed vice president Marshall Snively as interim president last week.
“We have no plans to slow down,” Snively said.
The board will use the transition period to revisit the JSID’s mission and refine its strategic plan, board member Keith Orris said. It envisions launching a search for a permanent president shortly, he said.
In 2003, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster General Health and several local businesses created the James Street Improvement District, an economic development nonprofit that promotes Lancaster’s urban renewal. They recruited Riggs, an experienced development professional from Baltimore, to lead it. Riggs relocated to East Hempfield Township, where she lives with her husband and two children.
The JSID has influenced redevelopment projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars — projects such as the Lancaster County Convention Center, the YMCA on Harrisburg Avenue and F&M’s College Row retail and dormitory complex. Under Riggs’ leadership, the JSID worked to bring stakeholders together, articulate a vision and fit each initiative into a unified vision of city redevelopment.
The process began with Clipper Magazine Stadium. Plans for it were already well advanced when Riggs and Smithgall had their 2003 conversation. Architects had oriented the field with the outfield wall on the North Prince Street side, but Riggs “realized the importance of rotating the stadium to make more of an entrance from the street, creating a sense of place,” said Orris, who is senior vice president of community and government affairs at LGH.
Thanks to Riggs’ advocacy, the design committee reconsidered, revising the stadium so its entrance would open into a plaza adjoining North Prince Street.
Though batters now sometimes have to contend with sun in their eyes, the revision achieved its intended aim of fitting the stadium into the neighborhood and creating a welcoming streetscape, Orris said.
From 2002 to 2011, Orris worked in the F&M administration. There, he spearheaded the college’s and LGH’s joint Northwest Corridor redevelopment project, which is transforming 77 acres of former industrial land west of the stadium into a mix of college and health education facilities.
Clipper, which opened in 2005 at a cost of $23 million, helped Lancaster’s redevelopment momentum get under way, Orris said.
It’s rare for communities to be as far-sighted as Lancaster has been, Danos said.
Opening Day Partners will now have an economic development professional leading the front offices of both its midstate ball teams. Eric Menzer was York’s director of economic development and Wagman Construction Inc.’s senior vice president for urban renewal projects before he joined the York Revolution in 2010 as president and general manager.
Menzer was heavily involved in York’s efforts to build a stadium and recruit a professional baseball team. Sports often are important parts of cities’ economic development strategies, and running a team involves the same networking and persuasion skills as managing a development project, he said.
People like Riggs and Menzer, who are tapped into local communities, are key to realizing Opening Day Partners’ vision, Danos said.
A minor league team’s success “is often measured in no small part by the strength of the team’s connection to the community,” he said.
Or as Menzer put it: “We are the ultimate local business.”
And business is brisk. Clipper Magazine Stadium welcomes more than 300,000 people a year to 70-some home games and other events, Danos said. The Barnstormers employ 26 staffers in the front office and several hundred seasonal workers.
“The majority of them aren’t doing it for the money,” but because they enjoy being part of professional baseball, Danos said.
Fans have a lot of options for their entertainment dollars, Danos said. Clubs know they have to keep the stadium experience fresh, exciting and compelling, he said.
“These days, you have to value every moment of a family’s time,” he said.
Riggs said she’s looking forward to the challenge of managing the team, honing existing skills and learning new ones.
She hopes to bring additional events to Clipper and strengthen partnerships with local businesses and organizations, she said.
“I’m blown away by what happens here,” she said. “I’m eager to get into the community and tell this story.”