BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Beau Rivage made the Biloxi Visitors Center feel as much like as baseball stadium as they could Thursday afternoon. They had employees dressed as ballpark vendors, handing out peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
The first pitch at this news conference came from Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway. "Baseball has a long history in the city of Biloxi," Holloway said, noting a new day for baseball was about to begin.
The next pitch came from Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant. It was a fastball right down the middle of the plate. "We want to bring baseball, professional baseball, to the Mississippi Gulf Coast," he exclaimed.
Nine years ago, talk started about bringing baseball back to Biloxi. Those talks heated up in the days after the BP oil spill. "Imagine if you will a beautiful stadium across from Beau Rivage," the governor said. With the help of $15 million in BP proceeds, imagination will become reality. "We'll have $10 million in new annual visitor spending," said Bryant. "I would think it wouldn't take long to make up that $15 million investment."
The ballpark will sit on Beau Rivage property north of its downtown Biloxi resort. Home plate will be near I-110 and Howard Avenue. Beyond the centerfield wall, fans will see the resort. "I believe in this team, a team we're going to rally around," Bryant said.
Earlier this month, the Biloxi City Council passed a resolution of intent to issue up to $21 million in bonds to construct the new stadium near Caillavet Street. The stadium construction is expected to cost approximately $35 million.
The governor said it's an investment in South Mississippi's future. "Our economic development here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is tourism," the governor said. Spending money on this ballpark, he said, invests money in "a destination called the Gulf Coast."
Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker reinforced that point when he stepped up to the plate. "This is diversification of tourism," said Wicker. The senator said he couldn't wait for the day when we're all "enjoying the good old American past time on the Gulf Coast."
In 2012, Gov. Bryant began working with a baseball ownership group, led by team owner Ken Young, to identify a suitable site and potential financing for a stadium development. Young, a former minor league executive of the year and owner of four minor league baseball franchises, is in the process of purchasing an existing minor league team and relocating the team to Biloxi.
"I believe Biloxi will be an excellent location for minor league baseball," Young said. "The community will immensely enjoy the sports and entertainment. The venue will be one of the best in baseball, and the region will take great pride in it."
Once constructed, the stadium will likely feature a capacity of approximately 6,500-7,000 people for baseball, including luxury boxes. For other events, such as concerts, the stadium will seat upwards of 14,000 people, including temporary field level seating.
"This project will have major economic and tourism impacts for the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said. "We expect the stadium to spur additional development in downtown Biloxi. We are excited about having baseball in our city."
The Gulf Coast Business Council's research foundation estimates the stadium development will spur an additional $10 million annually in visitor spending on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Before the stadium construction begins, the baseball franchise ownership group will need to finalize the purchase of the existing franchise and receive final approvals from Minor League Baseball for the team's relocation.
Take a closer look at the renderings shown during today's news conference: http://www.mainstreetbiloxi.com/Biloxi/stadiumrenderings.pdf