Shovels have been scheduled to hit the dirt of the future new Southern League franchise in Madison, Ala. A groundbreaking ceremony for a new $46 million ballpark in the north Alabama town has been scheduled for June 9, according to local media reports. The groundbreaking, which has been dubbed a city celebration, will include the announcement of a name-the-team contest. The ballpark is scheduled to open in 2020.
Though not finalized, the ballpark is set to host the current Mobile BayBears franchise, whose relocation to Madison was approved by the Southern League earlier this week. Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball still need to sign off on the move, but that is likely just a formality, as league approvals typically don’t happen without confidence that the larger entities will approve it as well.
“Minor League Baseball belongs back in north Alabama and we are thrilled to be a part of its return to the region,” BallCorps Managing Partner and CEO Ralph Nelson said in the announcement. “We are excited to reveal more details about the team, its total integration into the community, and to celebrate the start of construction.”
The Baybears, which play at 21-year-old Hank Aaron Stadium, have ranked last in the Southern League in attendance in each season since the Huntsville Stars relocated to Biloxi in 2015. BallCorps Inc. — which includes Louis Breland, the developer of a new $300 million planned community in Madison — purchased the BayBears from Michael Savit and the HWS Group late last year. Nelson has a background in professional baseball, having previously served as assistant general manager of the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks.
One of the keys to minor league baseball’s sustained growth has been the replacement of poor-performing markets and old ballparks with new stadiums in towns eager to host a minor league team. In the Southern League, that last occurred when the Huntsville Stars, whose outdated ballpark no longer met Minor League Baseball facility standards and contributed to the team regularly finishing last in the league in attendance, moved to a new ballpark adjacent to a casino on the Biloxi coast.
While that move to Biloxi has not been without its bumps—including a delay in ballpark construction that resulted in the Shuckers spending the 2015 season on the road, and a feud between team owners Ken Young and Tim Bennett that led them to sue each other –attendance has improved in Biloxi.
Madison’s new ballpark, which is being designed by Populous, will have many of the bells and whistles of modern venues, including a 360-degree concourse and a variety of seating options. Renderings of the ballpark were released in March.