BRADENTON — The young players on the new Bradenton Marauders minor league baseball team are not the only ones with high hopes and dreams.
City officials and business leaders, along with the Pittsburgh Pirates, owners of the high Single-A team, are hoping for an economic home run as the team prepares to play its first game Thursday at McKechnie Field.
The Marauders have a 140-game schedule, including 70 at home, bringing crowds throughout the summer to the Ninth Street West corridor that wouldn’t travel there after the last spring season game.
“I’m very excited that it’s going to bring new people to the area,” said Gus Johnson, owner of Popi’s Place I restaurant, 818 17th St. W., a prime spot next door to McKechnie. “I’m now open only for breakfast and lunch, so I’ll have to think about changing my hours and a new menu.”
Most of the Marauders’ games at McKechnie will be played at night, starting at 7 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends. There are a few afternoon games Sundays.
Regardless of the time, there aren’t many nearby venues yet for fans to visit before or after the games along Ninth Street West.
Besides Johnson’s restaurant, there’s the Base Ball Deli, 1720 Ninth St. W., and the 9th Street Bistro in the Renaissance on 9th Senior Center, within two blocks of the ballfield.
“I think the more people in the area, the more incentive for area businesses, like restaurants, to locate here,” said Kristen Theisen, spokeswoman for the Renaissance on 9th. “It’ll also bring awareness to our location.”
Many of the businesses along Ninth Street West are automotive-related, such as used car sales, tire repair and sales, and repair shops.
But Tim Polk, director of the city’s Planning and Community Development Department, sees the corridor transforming into an entertainment destination.
The city changed land-use classification for the area to urban village in February to facilitate redevelopment.
The Land Development Code describes urban village as “a district designed to ... provide for a compact, mixed-use, center of activity with neighborhood and community-serving uses at a pedestrian scale and character.”
Said Polk, “This will promote more retail, office, hotel, restaurant, cultural and educational facilities.”
He said developers and landowners will begin to take notice as changes start to happen, especially with the Marauders filling seats a large portion of the year.
“Once they see the number of fans increase and the coordination of place-making events, such as night games, concerts and other activities, we’ll see more redevelopment,” Polk said.
This doesn’t surprise Ken Clanton, a commercial property Realtor with Wagner Realty.
“You can see what happens when the Pirates are here for spring training,” Clanton said. “People stay away from the area when the Pirates are not here, unless they’re buying a used car or tires.”
He said he has several pieces of property up and down Ninth Street West listed for sale.
All it will take for the redevelopment to begin is for one or two businesses to open in the corridor, Clanton said.
“The big pioneer was the Renaissance on 9th,” he said. “It’s a beautiful building and it brings people who don’t usually visit that area.
“Now the Marauders are being pioneers,” Clanton said.
More people means more sales, which adds sales tax revenue for the city. But the actual economic benefits won’t be known until after the first season.
“There will obviously be some economic impact from the sales tax,” said City Clerk Carl Callahan. “But it will be hard to separate it because sales tax revenues are received from the state in a lump sum.”
But the broader economic impact can be measured, according to Robert Anderson, dean of the College of Business at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee
“It depends on how much the payroll of the staff, players and coaches will be,” Anderson said. “Also, how much the employees and fans will spend in the Bradenton area.
“The rule of thumb is that every $1 spent results in a $3 impact to the local economy,” he said.
Several other broader factors must be considered to establish an accurate economic impact, Anderson noted.
“Most of the players will stay in moderate-priced hotels or motels,” he said, “and there’s the supplies for the ball field and businesses.”
And the sales tax on souvenir items, such as T-shirts and ball caps, the bed tax on hotel rooms for visiting teams and the sales tax at the restaurants where they eat must be added into the calculation.
“It should have a positive impact,” Anderson said. “It will be more than they have now.”
Village of the Arts
Owners of the art galleries and restaurants in the Village of the Arts hope to benefit from the Marauders coming to town.
“I think it’ll be terrific for the Village,” said Kevin Webb, owner of the 10th Avenue West Studios, 1102 10th Ave. W. “With 70 night games there will be opportunities for the restaurants and galleries.”
Webb expects people will spend time before the game walking through the Village, just as they do before spring training night games.
“It’ll also let people discover the Village who don’t know about us,” he said.
The Village of the Arts is a special district between Ninth and 14th streets west and south of Ninth Avenue West the city established for artists.
Kim Hoffman, who owns Charisma Cafe and Art, 1004 10th Ave. W., saw a boost before night games during spring training.
“I did have people come for dinner,” Hoffman said.
She urged all Village businesses to be open and participate.
“I think we all should offer something,” said Hoffman. “When there’s an opportunity, we want to be part of it.”
For Gaetano Cannata, owner of the Ortygia restaurant, 1418 13th St. W., spring training brought diners who are now regulars at his establishment.
“I think it can help enliven the Village, it has potential, but it’s up to us to get it together,” Cannata said, referring to the business owners in the Village and along Ninth Street West.
Pirates on board
The Pittsburgh Pirates organization is invested in the community, and predicts the Marauders coming to town will be a catalyst for change, said Trevor Gooby, Pirates’ director of Florida operations.
“Our hope is when we turn the lights on at McKechnie Field 70 times during the summer,” Gooby said, “it will create an excitement and pump some revenue into the area.”
The Marauders will add 70 new jobs, including the players, coaches, office personnel, concession workers and grounds crew.
Gooby said the Pirates organization is committed to promoting the redevelopment of the area.
“We’re going to be here a long time,” he said. “Ninth Street is our backyard and we want this area to be a place people will want to come to.”
Port Charlotte’s experience
The Charlotte Stone Crabs, a Single-A minor league team owned by the Tampa Bay Rays, completed its inaugural year last fall.
Jonathan Gantt, marketing director for the Stone Crabs, said they had a great first year and the Charlotte County community really accepted them.
The Stone Crabs led the Florida State League in attendance, drawing an average of 2,900 fans a game and more than 176,000 for the season.
“We provide a safe, friendly environment for the family or individual,” Gantt said. “We’re a community meeting place.”
They have not yet completed a report on the team’s economic impact in Charlotte, he said, but they expect it to be impressive.
Included in the report are revenues from about 100 full-time and part-time seasonal employees, the costs of hotel rooms rented by visiting teams, sales taxes and other incomes.
Unlike McKechnie Field, the Charlotte Sports Park where the Stone Crabs play is about a mile from downtown.
It was built pretty much in an open field, where there are plenty of opportunities for development of before and after-game destinations.
Gantt said he feels investors will begin to take advantage of the crowds as soon as the economy recovers.
“The field has become a rallying point for the community,” he said.
Community spirit benefit
Anderson, the USF dean, said a minor league team adds quality of life to the community.
“Since spring training is already embedded here, the continuation with a minor league level is another benefit,” he said. “Players begin to develop an attachment and settle in the area.”
The community will begin to see the Marauders as their team, Anderson predicted.
Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, said McKechnie is an important part of the arts and cultural life of the county.
“The Pirates are looking at opportunities to have the field utilized for theater or concerts and other family events,” Isham said.
During spring training, the Pirates helped promote activities and events over the public address system at the field and with an ad in the game programs providing discount coupons to various venues.
“We’re both looking at ways to create synergy with Old Main Street, downtown, the Village of the Arts and the Marauders,” she said.
She noted how much the Pirates organization wants to participate in improving the community.
“They chose to have ‘Bradenton’ in their name,” Isham said.
Carl Mario Nudi, municipal reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7027.