BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - MGM Park and the Biloxi Shuckers are here to stay. There's no turning back. Some fans aren't waiting for the new stadium to open to see the Shuckers play, but supporting the team at other venues won't get very far.
It's a full count, and we're waiting for that next pitch.
Each missed home game not only subjects the city to fines paid to the team, but also means the city has no chance to make any direct or indirect money from fans flocking in.
So, whether you like the project or hate it, the best and really only option at this point is to get MGM Park open for business as soon as possible.
Biloxi Councilman George Lawrence sees the new park every day from his home on Hopkins Boulevard. He says he has grown to accept the development.
"I didn't like the contract," Lawrence said. "I thought it put too much on the city, and I didn't like it being on their property. I've never changed from that. I thought it should be on city property."
Beau Rivage owns the property, which the city pays only $1 a year to lease.
"What I was trying to do is not stop it, but I wanted to adjust the contract for the City of Biloxi," Lawrence said. "See if we could make it more positive. It's kind of hard when you put up the money and you pay all the bills, and you don't have any say so. Now, it's there. It's time for me to figure out how to pay for it and make it a positive venue for the city."
The city is responsible for payments on the $21 million bond over 20 years: $1.3 million this year and $1.6 million every year after that. From the beginning, city officials say they set aside enough money to make payments until the revenue comes in.
Eventually, that will come from money generated from a surcharge on ticket sales, sales tax, $150,000 in lease fees from the team and advertising revenues from the video board.
If, at any time, the city cannot make payment, Biloxi will have to initiate a millage increase. Leaders don't see that happening.
"Can we meet it all the time? Probably can," Lawrence said. "I really think they'll do well, first five, six, seven years."
As for the penalties, the city is having to pay the Shuckers $10,000 for each home game missed. That money will come from the city's general fund.
Penalties continue until June 6. That is the first deadline for the team. If the audio, visual and signage are not completed, the penalty stops.
The Shuckers' owners have an additional deadline of July 1, for the south entrance electrical switch for concerts and a few other items. If they are not complete, the penalty stops.
The bill for missed home games through May could be as high as $250,000, but negotiations continue and the final bill on penalties won't be known for weeks.
Team co-owner Tim Bennett is one of the project's biggest cheerleaders.
"If you look at the number of jobs we're providing and the stimulation to the downtown economic development that will take place after the stadium is built," Bennett said. "We feel like this will more than pay for itself in the short term."
He says minor league baseball will make it when other professional franchises have not.
"We have a foundation that no other sports organization has, and that's Major League Baseball," Bennett added. "When you look at the name Shuckers, it only represents a team that is the Milwaukee Brewers that train their players here in Biloxi, MS. In order for this to fail, Major League Baseball would have to fail."
Former major leaguer Barry Lyons, who has spent most of his life playing and managing in minor league baseball, first pushed the idea of minor league baseball in Biloxi some 20 years ago. Even though he is not part of the current project, he still sees opportunity.
"I've seen the joy that it brings. I've seen the excitement. I've seen the unifying effect that it has on a community. I've seen the goodness of baseball at its purest level," Lyons said. "It is something that I believe can be an amazing addition to the landscape here. It's something that we need. Family entertainment."
The opening of the stadium is scheduled for early June, but that isn't set in stone. After it's opened, will that economic benefit ever come?
Some businesses have already opened, like Sal and Mookies, Level Nightclub, Kress Live and Lunch. Chef Danie Rodriguez began Lunch in Vieux Marche about a year ago.
"We weren't given any guarantees. That was never promised, but we were definitely told, 'You'll do really well down there. When that ball field opens, it's just going to explode down there,'" Rodriguez said. "I really hope that it does. So, we're trying to hold on until the ball field does open. And, like I said, I kind of feel like the cat that's on the ledge, just hanging on."