The vision of a professional baseball team called the Waco BlueCats playing in a new stadium in Bellmead may live on as a “Field of Dreams” aspiration. But as far as the city of Bellmead is concerned, no one’s building, and no one’s coming.
Yost Zakhary, Bellmead’s interim city manager, gave would-be stadium developer Mark Schuster an April 1 deadline to come up with financing for the proposed $12 million stadium, which was planned to be built on 13 acres owned by the Bellmead Economic Development Corp. at Loop 340 and Research Boulevard.
That deadline came and went this week with no action from Schuster.
“The bottom line is the planned project has come and gone, and my recommendation to the city council is to move forward and re-market the property for future commercial or industrial use,” Zakhary said. “And if they would like to come back and re-apply in the future if they get the financing, we would be happy to re-evaluate it at that time.”
Schuster, a resident of Charleston, South Carolina, did not return phone calls this week from the Tribune-Herald seeking comment for this story.
Two weeks before Bellmead’s deadline, however, he still sounded upbeat about the prospects of securing financing and moving ahead with his plans despite missing deadlines and breaking promises in cities in which he had hoped to form a league.
“We have had, it seems, one delay after another — out-of-our-control delays,” Schuster said last month. “We signed an agreement back in the fall with our lending partner. We thought that would come together at the end of the year. But here we are in March and we still don’t have a definitive financial partner. But we are still moving forward, still working. Things like this are always harder and always take longer than you think.”
Tom Hill, president of the BlueCats and Waco Sports and Entertainment, said Friday that he no longer considers himself president of the team.
“There is nothing to be president of,” he said. “If this thing gets resurrected to the point where there is viable backing, I’m sure Mark will give me a holler and let me be a part of it. But until the financing comes through, there is nothing to be president of.”
Schuster projected the Waco BlueCats would be playing in a new $12 million stadium in Bellmead by April and that his Wisconsin-based Ventura Sports Group eventually would be be adding teams from Royse City in North Texas; Joplin, Missouri, and other locations to play in what he called the Southwest League of Professional Baseball. Those agreements, and now the one in Bellmead, have fallen through, as well as the league and Schuster’s plan to renovate downtown Dallas’ Reverchon Park for league play.
Hill, a former Baylor University assistant athletics director, said he gave Schuster a couple of leads last week in his search for financing.
“What I understand is his project is still trying to press forward and trying to get resurrected when his financing comes in,” Hill said. “It is non-traditional financing, so he has to have some pretty significant meetings with some pretty significant folks. If there is no financing, there is no stadium. The folks in Bellmead have been kind and my hat is off to the council for trying to do something big in Bellmead. I wish I could be part of it and, hopefully, there will still be an opportunity.”
Zakhary said the city of Bellmead has had a few bites from commercial customers about the land and were waiting to see if it would become available if the baseball field plans did not materialize. Now, he said, the city’s economic council can direct Zakhary to start recruiting businesses that might want to move there.
“I think the baseball field would have been a great opportunity for the city, but unfortunately, it didn’t materialize,” Zachary said.
Bellmead officials proposed to spend $4 million in sales tax revenue to help Ventura develop a 3,500-seat stadium and mixed-use “baseball village.” Bellmead voters approved an increased tax on hotel stays to help pay for the stadium’s long-term maintenance. The hotel tax increase does not go into effect unless the stadium is built.
Under the terms of the proposal, the city would have owned the land but Ventura would own the “vertical improvements” — the stadium and buildings — as long as it meets its contractual obligations.
The city would have collected sales tax from the “ballpark village,” as well as property tax on equipment, but the land and buildings themselves would be exempt.