HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH, Associated Press
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Developers plan to break ground this fall on a series of replica Major League Baseball stadiums for Little Leaguers in the southwest Missouri tourism mecca of Branson.
Backers of the Ballparks of America project are banking on being able to lure the growing number of youth traveling teams to the two-thirds-scale versions of stadiums, including Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Boston’s Fenway Park, St. Louis’ Busch Stadium and Detroit’s former Tiger Stadium. The lakefront town, which is known for its mix of shows, amusement parks, go-karts and other attractions, began leasing the former outlet mall site where the fields will be built to the developers last month.
The project has received zoning approval, and work on the $15 million first phase is scheduled to be finished in May. It will include building six stadiums and converting part of the mall into a cafeteria and dorms for traveling youth teams of primarily 11- to 12-year-old players. In future phases, developers plan to build another 10 stadiums at a cost of $9 million on 20 acres of land adjoining the former mall, said Hamilton Chang, CEO of Ballparks of America.
Besides the ball fields, developers already have letters of interest from several businesses that want to operate specialty retail stores, restaurants, and youth-friendly activities at the facility, Chang said.
“We are trying to make it the Epcot Center of ballparks,” said Chang, who has coached each of his four sons, ages 17, 16, 14 and 11. Chang said the investors, all “baseball dads” like him, believe the replica stadiums and professional grade artificial turf will be a big draw. He noted that there are only a few tournament facilities that offer a similar experience and that they have long waiting lists.
Initially, operators will be able to book up to 48 teams at a time for weeklong tournaments in the summer and for weekend tournaments in the spring and fall. Chang, of suburban Chicago, said the facility will be able to handle up to 128 teams when all 16 fields are built. Players would pay about $750 each for the weeklong events. In the off season, the facility’s dorms will be able to house other youth groups.
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