The Boise Hawks were at the leading edge when the nation's stadium-building renaissance began about a quarter of a century ago. Now they're hoping to catch the trailing edge.
A recent market viability analysis commissioned by the Boise City Council and undertaken by Conventions Sports and Leisure looked at the viability of building a new multi-purpose stadium in Boise--and what adding a Premier Development League soccer team to Boise's landscape would do to help make it a more attractive proposition.
The Hawks, a Chicago Cubs' short-season affiliate, have played in Memorial Stadium since 1989. At the time, the ballpark was constructed at a cost of $2 million, and the results show in the details. Sun-scorched seats along the first-base line, inadequate player facilities, and inconvenient food and merchandise vending locations reveal a park built on what would now be considered a shoestring budget and that falls short of comparable new parks in terms of amenities and seating capacity, which is 3,427.
To see what a new Hawks ballpark might look like, consider two fellow Northwest League facilities. At a cost of $19.2 million, PK Park in Eugene, Ore., opened in 2009. It seats 4,000, provides spacious locker rooms and clubhouses for the players, has a partially covered grandstand and high-definition video board, and includes local restaurant favorites for fans. Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, B.C., was renovated in 2007-2008 with a new concourse and external upgrades at a total cost of $5 million. It accommodates 5,132 people, and while the upgrades are not as spiffy as PK Park, local food options and mostly covered seating enhance the fan experience.
Justifying what will be an approximately $20 million expenditure for a stadium in these difficult economic times will not be easy for the Boise Hawks organization, but the team has a creative idea for improving its odds. Hawks management has been talking to United Soccer Leagues about adding a Boise franchise to the Northwest Division of the Premier Development League--the country's top amateur soccer league--which would share the proposed new stadium's playing space.
Todd Rahr, Hawks president and general manager, emphasized his organization's desire to add a soccer team.
"Soccer is a major part of our planning," Rahr said. "It will help make this facility work. If we get [a multi-purpose stadium] done, we want one of their franchises."
Jeff McRaney, PDL senior director, shares that enthusiasm.
"[Boise] is a great market, and one we'd like to be in," he said.
According to the CSL analysis, PDL franchises draw an average of approximately 500 to 600 fans per game. And a Boise-based franchise soccer team would mean at least eight additional dates on the stadium's calendar with home games. Rahr envisions other matches as well: Major League Soccer and Mexican national team exhibitions, along with Boise State women's games and Far West youth regional tournaments. That would not only increase the usage of the stadium and bring in some of its largest crowds--CSL estimates 5,000 fans for an MLS exhibition--but would bring in attendees from out of state.
"We want to attract people from out of town to fill hotels and restaurants," Rahr said.
The CSL study projected 500 fans per PDL game based on current league-average attendance. However, Rahr contends this number is low, pointing out that "many other Northwest League teams play in high school or municipal facilities." A new multi-purpose stadium would have a much greater capacity and, as an added bonus for many fans, alcohol sales would be permitted. Spectators like to enjoy a beer or two during a game--something they can't do on a high school field.
While Rahr said that Boise is on USL's radar, he also explained that discussions thus far are in the exploratory phase. Both Hawks management and the league have been up front about the fact that a team will only be awarded if an acceptable facility is available.
Steven Short, United States Soccer Leagues' director of league growth and partnerships, emphasized that point.
"We uphold minimum standards of facilities, and those standards add to the integrity and professionalism of the league," he said. But on an optimistic note, he added, "I could see the multi-purpose stadium benefiting the PDL and the area in general."
In addition to hosting a soccer team, Rahr mentioned a number of other ways that usage could be maximized in a new multi-purpose stadium. High school football teams and Boise State sometimes encounter conflicts in scheduling games at Bronco Stadium. The new facility could alleviate some of those by providing an alternate location for high school teams.
The stadium could also work as an ice rink, which could potentially see an average of nearly 100 wintertime visitors per day in a 60-day period. College and high school baseball games, lacrosse matches, concerts and corporate gatherings could also take advantage of the space.
While the Hawks don't have a preference for the location of a new facility, Rahr thought the western edge of downtown makes the most sense. Then Capital City Development Corporation could get involved.
"Being in an urban renewal zone would allow the CCDC to help with land acquisition and infrastructure development," he said.
The Hawks have only 38 home games per season, so making it available for other events under consideration would significantly increase the stadium's utilization. Adding in the draw of a local soccer team could certainly strengthen the baseball team's efforts to win support for a new park.
And while soccer could be a big draw, a new facility could very well increase the entertainment value of its original purpose: baseball.
"We are going to run this like a minor league baseball team. It will be about fun and entertainment," Rahr said. "It will be an event."