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Arkansas Travelers to stay in North Little Rock, CEO says

Arkansas’s longtime minor league team and North Little Rock are finding a path to divide up the costs of an expensive renovation of city-owned Dickey-Stephens Park.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Editor's Note: The video shown above is from March 2022.

Arkansas Travelers CEO and Vice President Rusty Meeks said the Arkansas Travelers are here to stay, according to a report by Arkansas Business.

New facility standards for Minor League parks put the future of where the Travelers would play in the future, but no one could agree on who should foot the bill.

Around six weeks ago, Meeks was asking the City of North Little Rock to provide $7 million to shore up a sinkhole-prone field and to spend an extra $5.6 million on stadium and clubhouse upgrades. Those upgrades would include like new field lights, training rooms and facilities for female umpires and athletes.

The argument was that bigger upgrades and facility additions should be the city of North Little Rock’s obligation as owner.

On Monday, June 13, the North Little Rock City Council approved $700,000 for a new playing surface and committed $800,000 to hire a construction engineering firm to plan wells to abate sinkholes that have appeared ever since the Travelers moved into the park along the Arkansas River in 2007.

According to Arkansas Business, Mayor Terry Hartwick previously committed $9,000 to keep the Travelers at the picturesque red-brick, green-seated park at the foot of the Broadway Bridge, an emblem of downtown resurgence and western gateway to the revitalized Argenta Arts District.

The mayor reserved the $9,000 as a deposit for the field’s new turf, which will be installed by 4Most Sports Group of Grove City, Pennsylvania. The mayor has signaled he is amenable to the city shouldering about $6 million of the park’s burden. 

“We’re going to get something worked out,” Meeks told Arkansas Business. “I’ve been to probably 30 minor league ballparks, and I’m biased, but ours is probably the nicest, or at least among the top few. But under a 2021 agreement that streamlined minor leagues and put Major League Baseball in charge, we have to make these changes by the 2023 season. So we’ve got to get something done.”

The renovations’ urgency comes from Major League Baseball, which is requiring compliance to revised minor league facilities rules by spring 2023; the Travelers’ actual lease on Dickey Stephens runs through 2026, with the Travs paying the city $230,000 a year until the last two years, 2025 and 2026, when the rent drops to $115,000 a year. 

Throughout negotiations, the city has held that the lease requires the ballclub to pay for upgrades beyond the field itself.

"The fans really love the Travelers being here,” Meeks told Arkansas Business. “I mean, how many places can a dad and mom bring two kids, buy tickets to an event, have a great time and feed everybody for about $60? Inflation has brought that up from about $50 or $55 for the family, but it’s a really great deal. It’s an attraction that central Arkansas doesn’t want to lose.”

During the city meeting, council member Nathan Hamilton said he’d be willing to pay more for renovation costs, but only if the Travelers would agree to open their books.

“Even if we are not contractually obligated to do that, I’m willing to help, but I need to know if they need that help or not,” Hamilton said. 

Arkansas Business reported that Meeks said the Travelers are not interested in making their books public, as they are a private company.

Another council member, Charley Hight, said on the record that he supports any city efforts to keep the Travelers. 

“The contract that we currently have with the Travelers runs through 2026, I think,” said Davis, Mayor Hartwick’s staff chief. “We would like to extend that up to 2030, at least. That’s going to be something that will take a while to accomplish, because there’s going to be attorneys from several places involved. But we want to make sure to do that.”

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