A chain-link fence topped with concertina wire surrounds tall stacks of fresh two-by-fours at Hayward Lumber off Front Street in Salinas. It’s a dusty industrial area next to the tracks, but Mayor Joe Gunter sees something entirely different. “When you look at this, it’s pretty phenomenal,” he says. “It’s a huge piece of property right in the middle of town.”
If about $25 million from private investors materializes, the smell of sawdust could give way to the scent of hot dogs, and the sound of buzzing saws to fans cheering home runs.
A minor-league baseball team owner and a developer plan to present their vision for a stadium and Salinas minor-league team to City Council Sept. 23.
D.G. Elmore and his dad, David Elmore, own seven minor-league teams. D.G. bought the Bakersfield Blaze – a farm team of the Cincinnati Reds – in 2006, expecting the city to build a new stadium. That was before the economy tanked and redevelopment agencies were dissolved, making new development difficult.
Elmore sold the team to Bakersfield locals who intended to build a privately funded stadium, but they couldn’t raise the capital. So Elmore, a private-equity investor based in Bloomington, Indiana, bought the team back last year and started looking at relocation sites across the state. Salinas rose to the top of the list; he liked the city’s size and location, right off Highway 101.
“WE THINK SALINAS IS A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH.”
Minor-league teams have played in Salinas before, most recently the Western League’s Salinas Peppers in 1997, and the California League’s Salinas Spurs from 1982-92.
Now there’s the promise of a more vital neighborhood envisioned by developer Sean Cooley, who’s behind the Alisal Marketplace concept, adjacent to the proposed stadium.
“Things seem to be coming together there,” Elmore says.
Cooley, also an investor in the stadium, is the force behind the marketplace master plan, which calls for a major revamping of the neighborhood, including relocating the dump and building a new police station on an abandoned county yard. “We think Salinas is a diamond in the rough,” he says.
On Sept. 23, Cooley will ask City Council to extend existing 10-year tax credits for 20 years to help support the stadium plan. He’ll also ask for a promise of police presence at every game, and for the city to commit to co-sponsoring at least 15 non-baseball events.
“If the City Council doesn’t approve of that direction, then we’re out of business,” Cooley says.
They’re on a tight timeline, hoping to be ready to throw a pitch by April 1, 2016, in time for the California League season.
“We need private investors, sponsors, city involvement, bank financing,” Elmore says. “It is not easy putting together a privately funded stadium, but that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Blaze dropped out of the Northern Division Finals after four games on Sept. 9, after losing 7-2 to the Visalia Rawhide. Gunter says he’ll cheer on Elmore’s plans (and future team) whether or not they’re regular winners.
A day after the L.A. Dodgers clobbered the San Francisco Giants 17-0, Gunter was still chipper: “It’s a game,” he says. As for Elmore’s proposal: “This is going to be really big.”