Indians

Fair or Foul? City Of Cleveland Giving $5 Million to Renovate League Park

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Cleveland has a historic landmark in its Hough Neigborhood. Many people know it’s there, but other than a quick drive-by, there isn’t much of a reason to stop. I’m speaking of course of old League Park, the baseball field that was the one-time home of the Cleveland Indians and the Negro League Cleveland Buckeyes. The structure sits vacant on the corner of E. 66th and Lexington.

This is the place that saw Babe Ruth’s 500th home run in 1929 and where Bob Feller fired fastball after fastball. Legends of the game played in this hallowed park and then after 1946, it became outdated. Cleveland Municpal Stadium was the spot for the baseball action in Cleveland while League Park just sat there empty, year after year, decade after decade. It was never razed.

Cleveland historians for almost 20 years have attempted to come up with plans to restore and renovate this legendary ground. None of the ideas took shape, from the mayoral eras of Mike White and Jane Campbell. Plans ranged from anywhere from $2 million to $18 million. Then yesterday, Mayor Frank Jackson’s Chief of Staff, Ken Silliman announced the city’s intentions to put $5 million into rebuilding League Park and its adjacent land. According to Silliman, a museum and a youth baseball field will be the big keys to the project.

At first blush, as a baseball fan and historian myself, my thoughts were “it’s about time.”  League Park is a historical baseball site that I remember my father driving me past when I was a kid. But all I ever did was drive past it. So much history went on there,  something had to be done to this.

But this was also 25 years ago that my father pointed this out to me. The site was old, run down, and dilapidated then. Add 25 years to it and things obviously haven’t improved. Add in the fact that the current generation of baseball fans is dwindling and the game back in the days of League Park might as well have been a completely different sport, and it makes me wonder if restoring League Park is a good idea.

Writing this piece made me very conflicted on the subject. I’ve literally gone back and forth. The place hasn’t been in use in 60 years. Is now really the time to be putting the city’s money into it? Clevelanders of all ages know – our city is not in a place financially to be throwing out $5 million bouquets to fix up an old ballpark as a local tourist site. How about pumping $5 million into the city school system?

Proponents of the restoration will say that this is indeed re-investing in the city and one of its toughest neighborhoods. Paula Gist of the League Park Heritage Committee claims this is about more than just League Park. “This is important to us, to our neighborhood. We don’t want just a ballpark; we want a revitalization.”

I understand where she is coming from completely, but with all of the city’s issues, projects such this one and the Browns quest for $5.8 million in city funds for stadium repairs, are lightning rods. We aren’t exactly flush with cash in these economic times in Cleveland.

However, this is something that should have happened 20-25 years ago. Long time Cleveland natives always wonder why we aren’t making attempts to restore the city’s proud neighborhoods. Now, they are. So with that I have to applaud Frank Jackson and the city for finally going through with this long overdue project. I just hope that it actually comes to fruition.

(hat tip to reader Scott for alerting me to this)

(photo via Thomas Ondrey/PD)

 

  • This is tremendous news, and a mark in our favor.  My Grandfather told me so many stories about league park, and while this is a very rough area now, it is part of our history and shouldn’t be ignored.

  • Also, since we were on the subject of Detroit in the other article, see how the city official responded to General Motors’ desire to renovate the old Tiger Stadium where Ty Cobb, among others, played:

    http://espn.go.com/espn/commentary/story/_/id/7071717/detroit-refuses-gm-offer-save-tiger-stadium-lot-espn-magazine

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=6430547 (Original article).

    I’m glad our city, for once, wasn’t narrow-minded and dumb.

  • Justin

    This is great news. I took the time a few summers ago to drive over to E.66th and Lexington and stroll around the “field.”  Very neat being able to stand in the spot where, among other historically significant events, Babe Ruth hit his 500th homer.  Amazing to think of all the history that location holds, and even more shocking how dilapidated it has become. No-brainer for the city to invest this money.

  • I watched a Cleveland Blues game there a few summers ago. Took the “un-official” tour with Candice into the old dugout (which was haphazardly covered with plywood). Then got educated by a local historian on who used to walk those halls.. amazing. So glad they’re restoring it. Watching the Blues play there while it’s still untouched though is like taking a time-machine back to the golden era of baseball. 

  • kjn

    I’m down with this.
    Money invested in neighborhoods and our shared local history? Yes.
    Money used to enrich Lerner and his team…  er… investment? No.

  • Paul Marsh

    Cleveland and Durham probably have just as many differences as they do similarities so I know this could be viewed as an apple and oranges comparison, but I’ll put it out there none the less.   After college, I moved from Ohio to Durham, NC  in 1993.  This was the final two years the Durham Bulls played in the original Durham Bulls park.  As a newcomer to the area I was psyched to see games in the park where Bull Durham was filmed, but make no mistake, it was a dump, and it was in a very sketchy part of town.

    After the bulls moved to the new park on the other (nicer) side of town the old park was sporatically used for small concerts and by rec leagues but mostly left to rot until around 2006 when a Bond was approved to improve the stadium.  The bond passed despite opposition saying that renovating the stadium was a waste of time and money given the overall state of area around the ballpark.  I had moved to an adjacent neighborhood 4 blocks from the stadium in 2002 and there were certainly some sketchy areas around the park, but my wife loves old houses and the neighborhood seemed to have some potential.  For the first few years it was not uncommon to hear gunshots on a summer night, but we continued to tough it out.

    http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/annienc/2008/11/bull_durham_1.html

     The problem IMO was the park was (and is) the anchor of the neighborhood.  So as long as it was in a state of decay, few people would be willing to invest in the areas around it.  The renovation proceeded and finished 2009, during and since then there’s been three formerly unoccupied, boarded buildings renovated and opened: two restaurants and live music venue.  (My)Property values (and the tax base) have also risen during the same period.  Keep in mind this during the period from 2006 to present when most (around the country and in other areas of Raleigh / Durham) were seeing property value plummet.

    I’m not trying to say that renovating League Park will pay certain dividends to the degreee that Durham saw.  The “DAP” had the benefit of more recent history and a very popular movie to help sway the public.  That said, there are often ancillary benefits to renovating a landmark and League Park would seem to fit in that category.  It would be a shame if nothing was done and it was just left to rot and eventually demolished.

    -PM

  • kjn

    Equally sad and incompetent. There’s a reason Detroit (and Cleveland, too) are where there are.

  • Anonymous

    Not a good use of public funds, in my opinion (but I don’t thing the city schools are a better choice).  How about not spending the money at all – or using that money to attract industry and business (and jobs, and people, and revenue, and revitalization, and a return on the investment that might one day eventually lead to a renovation of League Park as an outcropping of new life)?  It’s waited this long, it can wait a little longer. 

  • Vagabond

    This isn’t unlike a “broken window theory.”  Investing in city landmarks brings a vibrancy to a neighborhood and encourages others to take in-kind steps to improving their property.  The fact of the matter is people want to be near places of activity.  Here in Denver, we have numerous examples of how a small civic investment as created new places of interest and drew in diverse groups of people to once blighted areas.

    Well done, Cleveland.  This is $5M well spent.

    Now find $5M more for the schools.  That’s never a bad investment. 

  • Slooz

    This seems like an excellent idea, provided the development of the adjacent land is done intelligently (appealing design, etc.). Investing in beautification and historic landmarks is an excellent way to jumpstart economic development in neighborhood — people want to live, work, invest in, and visit in places that look nice, attractive, and friendly. And preferably walkable. Take a gander over at the Atlantic Cities blog for examples of successful projects like this all over the Rustbelt and the wider U.S. (And I get the concern over putting money here instead of into the schools, but this really does seem like  a smart investment.) 

    And for the record, this is nothing at all like Lerner asking for stadium money.

  • Paul Marsh

    Garry,
    I’m saying it’s a guarantee, but the money that was spent on the “DAP” in Durham did attract business and revitalization.  Take a look at this map and go to street view. 

    http://g.co/maps/jdsjf

    The street view pics were taken during the ballpark renovation. At the intersection there’s a boarded up gas station…this is that same gas station today:

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/geer-st-garden-durham

    http://brianabrough.smugmug.com/Business/Geer-Street-Garden/17149912_BHttkM/1/1299718365_wbdRgFK#!i=1299718365&k=wbdRgFK

  • Paul Marsh

    sorry, I’m NOT saying it’s a guarantee.  Terrible proofreading on my part.

  • Anonymous

    Not that I live in Cleveland anymore, but…

    As a baseball fan, I’m glad this is happening – probably more than any other sport out there, baseball is about it’s history. Definitely a plus.

    That said…what’s the end goal? Is the idea that renovating League Park is going to help revitalize Hough? I mean…it’s Hough, right? Hasn’t just about every attempt to redevelop/revitalize Hough in the past decade or two ended up not remotely having the expected benefit? What makes League Park different from that perspective? Why now, and not 10 years ago when the city had significantly more money? I just don’t get the “why” of this outside of “that’s pretty cool.”

  • Anonymous

    I definitely appreciate your comment and input (and knew what you were saying about it not being a guarantee), and I think the story of Durham is fantastic (I have an uncle that lives there and loves the place).  My concern is that I don’t think (though could certainly be wrong) the financial conditions of Cleveland in 2012 and Durham in 2006 are anything close to the same.  I just don’t know what the draw would be for business and industry in this part of Cleveland for an empty, though really cool, old stadium. 
     
    If they did it, and business came to Cleveland as a result, I would be as happy as anyone.  I just don’t think it’s a sound investment under the current economic conditions of the city at-large.

    Just out of curiosity – because I think it’s one critical component – what is the ballpark used for now?  That could be a solid indicator of what might happen in Cleveland.   

  • Ghost

    My initial reaction to this was that its a waste of taxpayer funds, more important things to spend the money on, etc.

    But you bring up some good points here. On the surface the Hough neighborhood appears to be a lost cause, but then again so did Tremont until a few years ago. We’ll never know if these neighborhoods can be improved if nobody takes steps to improve them.

    Unlike the Tiger stadium site in Detroit, there is literally nothing else to do with this property. Bad neighborhood, its nowhere near a freeway. Nobody is going to buy that property and build a factory, houses, stores, etc. May as well renovate the ballpark and hope that it can generate some tourism revenue. And you never know, could be the first step in restoring an old neighborhood too.

  • Harv 21

    My love of old parks alters my objectivity about whether this passes anyone’s cost/benefit analysis for use of public funds. I first wondered why there was no attempt at combined public/private financing until it hit me: a donor business would want naming rights, even on a defunct park. Like: “Roto-Rooter/ABC Bonds League Park.” Or “Cleveland Clinic You’ll Die If You Go to U.H. Baseball Museum.” Yep, that would be nice.

  • Haha, inasmuch as I find your general disposition towards the Browns appalling, I have to give credit where its due.  That was a fine joke about the Cleveland Clinic Stadium,

    See, I’m no such a bad guy after all.

  • Slooz

    Garry, see Vagabond’s comment below. What cities have been discovering is that we’ve all been approaching the causality from the wrong direction — we’ve been investing in “economic development” in hopes it will improve a place. Instead, investing in a place seems to actually bring in economic activity. See Vagabond’s comment below, for example.
    (The caveat is that not all investment is created equal — you have to be smart about it. But the principle still applies.) 

  • Anonymous

    Right.  I have no problem with that analysis.  I just don’t think this is a smart investment. 

  • Paul Marsh

     Agreed, Cleveland 2012 is much different from Durham 2006.  I would admit that the radius of positive revitalization from the ballpark post-renovation is about 4-5 blocks.  For that area of Durham and as part of the whole, it’s huge.  For the whole of East Cleveland it would be a small dot, but it could be a start. Whether it’s worth $5 million is admittedly the big gamble. 

    During the summer it’s used for for local college (NC Central U) games and city rec league playoffs.  Durham Bulls come back once a year to play a game there against the Mudhens.  I thought that was a great idea until I tried to get a hot dog and beer and missed 2 innings 🙂  

    They’ve also marketed it as a rentable multi-use venue:

    http://www.durhamathleticpark.com/Venue+Rental/

    Based on the activity I’ve seen there, the revenue from rent is probably sporatic, so in itself it’s not self sustaining, but I’d contend those events have brought people back into the area. Where they used to go out of their way to avoid the formerly ‘bad part of town,’ it’s slowly becoming a destination again for other reasons.  (two new restuarants and a music venue). 

  • Nobody1231234

    This is a great idea…with all the old former major league parks being razed, it’s really a diamond in the rough to even still have League Park in existence. This could lead to great things in that area, if the renovation is done well.

  • Anonymous

    I guess that’s my problem with it.  If it’s not self-sustaining, I just don’t see it being a viable “destination” attraction.  Cleveland is struggling enough with “destination attractions” like The Jake (I know, “Progressive Field”).  A concert venue is an interesting idea, but I don’t see it competing well with the other Cleveland-area venues (and don’t think that would be a good idea, anyway).  You could also throw a minor league team there like the Lake County Captains, but that would be bad for both Lake County and the Indians. 

    My hunch is that this sort of thing works great in cities like Durham, or Harrisburg PA (where I live), where there is not a lot of competition for “destination.”  It doesn’t work so well in a city like Cleveland that has a history of “top-end” destinations, and recent history of struggling to attract folks to those destinations. 

  • Anonymous

    I love the “broken window theory,” but the problem with this is that it goes far beyond the broken windows in Cleveland and shoots straight for an old, unused baseball park (which is unfortunately many steps removed from the broken windows surrounding it).  Cleveland could use a lot of broken window fixing, and could maybe afford doing that, but I just don’t think a $5 million investment in broken baseball parks makes much sense at this point. 

  • Anonymous

    I agree, this is a much better “broken window” usage model:
    http://www.gcbl.org/system/files/reimag+action+plan_8-24-10.pdf

  • DJ

    Well put. I’ve lived in Chapel Hill for the last 3 years, and have gone up to many Bulls games over that time, and was very curious to see the old DAP (where the Bulls still play once a year), and the neighborhood is starting to look a little nicer even since 2008. I do think this is a worthwhile investment for Cleveland, exactly for those reasons you stated.

    I still equate Durham to Akron, though. Eh, tom-eh-to, tom-ah-to.

  • Paul Marsh

    heh, yeah, I was renting in Chapel Hill for a couple years, but couldn’t afford an older (in town) house hence the move to Durham.  Durham does suffer from an inferiority complex when it comes to Chapel Hill. I love Durham but I still go to Chapel Hill for live music.  Cat’s Cradle and Local 506 get the best rock shows that come through the triangle and I don’t see that changing in the near future.