successful in bringing people back to city
April 25, 2010
It doesn't matter if it was a run
or a pass; the result was still a touchdown, right?
It was the wrong sport, but it seemed
like the right analogy to use when asking Mayor Rick Gray about the
impact of Lancaster's minor-league baseball team and Clipper Magazine
Stadium on the city.
As the Barnstormers prepare for
their sixth home opener Friday, April 30, the team and stadium are regarded
as a success — in a unexpected way.
The selling point for a stadium
here was the economic effect it could have. On game nights, presumably,
city restaurants and stores would have a steady flow of customers.
Not so, says Gray.
"People think it brings people
into the city, and they are right," he said. "But it is a
different impact. Bars and restaurants near the stadium are helped,
but that's it."
Economists have argued for some
time that ballparks are not the economic powerhouses team owners and
others make them out to be.
But Gray said, "Where it helped
is with people coming into the city at night. ...They saw that the city
is safe, and they come back." They are returning to visit restaurants
and shops they first noticed on their way to the stadium, he said.
"Baseball is how many months?"
the mayor asked. He credits the Barnstormers with bringing people into
the city beyond the sport's season, by staging winter activities at
Chris Ditzler, owner of Slugger's Pizzeria, 701 N. Queen St., opened
his restaurant in November 2004 when Clipper Magazine Stadium, one block
from his establishment, was being built.
"I love where I'm at,"
he said. "I don't regret my decision to open here whatsoever. ...
I definitely benefit from [the stadium]."
He said people arrive at the stadium
earlier on Barnstormer giveaway days, and his business falls off slightly.
But it all balances out with better traffic on other game days.
He estimates that 50 percent of
the customers he sees on a game night he sees again when the team isn't
The neighborhood has vastly improved
since the ballpark was built, he said, giving credit to the James Street
Improvement District for painting and adding lights. Ditzler, who lives
near the stadium, said the neighborhood was a bit intimidating before.
"If you didn't live near the
stadium, I could see why you wouldn't want to come here," he said.
"But it is safe and well-lit. The ballpark has enhanced the neighborhood,
and the existing businesses have benefited."
'Sense of momentum'
Some development around the stadium might have been slowed because of
the economy, but Harrisburg Avenue has seen a rebirth with the new YMCA,
The Arts Hotel, Franklin & Marshall's College Row, the cleanup of
Armstrong World Industries' tract, and the pending relocation of the
And the more people on the street
after and before games, the better people feel.
"You can't buy confidence,"
said Lisa Riggs, JSID president. "You have to have a community
believing it is moving in the right direction; the sense of momentum,
the sense of direction, you can't buy that. You won't invest unless
you have confidence."
Since July 2005, the JSID reports,
more than 1,500 building permits have been issued in the city's northwest
and downtown, reflecting more than $350 million in construction-related
activity. JSID's annual report states that the downtown and northwest
residential market also continues to hold steady, with the median sales
price of homes steadily rising from $90,000 just four years ago to more
than $120,000 today.
The city's eclectic mix of retail
expanded in the past year with 28 new businesses opening, the JSID reports,
and 20 additional merchants renovated or expanded stores. Also opening
was the Lancaster Marriott and the Lancaster County Convention Center.
In 2004-05 when the stadium was
being built, people were concerned about parking and traffic nightmares,
Riggs said. Those fears are gone.
Her message to the Barnstormers
management: Keeping doing what you're doing.
In 2004-05, Riggs recalls people
saying, " 'Can [the Barnstormers] sustain this past one year?'
Here we are in year six, and they still have great attendance, even
with a bad economy."
'Game is secondary'
Jon Danos, president of Keystone Baseball, owner of the Barnstormers,
said he sees the impact on the county as well.
"This community and this city
have embraced this team and made it one of the most successful in the
country," he said. The Barnstormers play in the independent (no
affiliation with Major League Baseball) Atlantic League with a caliber
of play equal to classes AA and AAA.
"The quality of baseball is
certainly in the mix," he added, "but the game is secondary
at times. I have two 8-year-olds and a 6-year-old, and their primary
objective is not to see the team win. It is bumper pool or the play
area. The stadium is a community gathering place."
Danos said he'll leave the economics
to the experts, but related one way he's seen people's perception of
the city change.
"I'll never forget when I moved
here, and I live in the county," he said. "Our neighbor said,
'We don't go downtown.' Now that neighbor comes downtown routinely to
Besides baseball, the ballpark has
hosted a Boy Scout jamboree; an Easter egg hunt; graduations; a Sarah
Palin campaign stop; concerts; job fairs; and the ice rink.
The ice rink has drawn about 15,000-20,000
people, hardly big business, but Danos said it was the first time many
city residents had a place to skate.
The Barnstormers have kept a high
profile in the community by repairing a baseball field for the Spanish
American Lancaster Sports Association, helping to feedpeople at Water
Street Ministries, collecting items for Toys for Tots and starting a
"Reading With the Barnstormers," whereby children can earn
a free ticket to a game by reading books.
The stadium has also been opened
to charity fundraisers, and civic groups that run concession stands
during games get a portion of the proceeds.
Danos said the team's goal is to keep the experience fresh. He believes
that is why attendance has stayed steady, averaging more than 5,000
fans the first season and just less than 5,000 last year.
"All of our eggs are not in
one basket of winning," Danos said. "Now, we want to win ...
but it is really about being a destination for family entertainment
and an affordable choice."
Keystone has taken a hit on advertising
and catering in the recession. The bills are getting paid, though, as
Keystone makes rental payments to the Lancaster County Redevelopment
The team has about 16 full-time
employees, which is the same number as six years ago when it started.
It also pays 25-30 players, and about 200 seasonal employees, Danos
The stadium's luxury boxes, which
have 10-year leases, serve as the financial rock for the team. Only
one company has withdrawn from its lease. Arlington Capital Mortgage
went out of business.
Though season tickets are off about
10 percent compared to other seasons, Danos said Friday's home opener
is close to a sellout.
Now about that football analogy
demonstrating the success of a baseball team in the city…
"I'm not sure if the expectations
were as clear as a pass play, but people fortunate to go to opening
day that first year left walking on air," Riggs said. "They
never thought Lancaster would have this.
"So I picture more a white
board that was clear, and a good play was drawn up and it worked — the
Doug Flutie 'Hail Mary' — and it scored."
Eric G. Stark is a Sunday News staff
writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.