[caption id="attachment_227032" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Frawley Stadium, home to the Wilmington Blue Rocks, will require millions in future upgrades to keep pace with requirements from Major League Baseball. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
WILMINGTON – The Delaware Stadium Corporation (DSC), which has owned and operated the Frawley Stadium minor league ballpark in Wilmington since it opened in 1993, has started a new chapter after merging with the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC).The merger, completed in July, was expected following the completion of a status report on the DSC and Frawley Stadium as a condition for $1 million in state bond funding approved for the stadium in the state’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget.More than 30 years after the ballpark opened to the public, the state of Minor League Baseball is very different.The Wilmington Blue Rocks survived a contentious period during the COVID pandemic, when Major League Baseball pared its minor leagues ranks by 42 teams, including one each in Maryland and New Jersey. The Blue Rocks were able to sign a 10-year contract with the Washington Nationals farm system in part because of the commitment by the DSC, state and team to invest in upgrades to Frawley Stadium.
[caption id="attachment_212245" align="alignright" width="240"] Thomas McGonigle | PHOTO COURTESY OF BARNES & THORNBURG[/caption]
“It was a big sigh of relief. We worked hard to make sure that [the Nationals] knew that we wanted them,” recalled Tom McGonigle, the board chair of the DSC, a nonprofit organization set up by the state and city of Wilmington to oversee the future of the publicly funded stadium.The DSC leases the stadium to ownership of the Blue Rocks, who manage the day-to-day operations and routine maintenance of the facility. In turn, the DSC oversees capital projects, but relies on a board of 20 appointed or volunteer members with only a single employee.The current lease and management agreement with the Class A team is set to expire at the end of 2023, and the Blue Rocks’ ownership group has reportedly expressed a desire to stop managing the stadium’s day-to-day affairs.Meanwhile, MLB has begun to exert more control over its minor leagues’ accommodations under its new contract and will begin requiring upgrades to facilities around the country. The Delaware partners have already invested about $3 million into installing a batter’s eye in centerfield, redoing pitching bullpens and renovating locker rooms and workout facilities. The league may require as much as $2.5 million in additional upgrades in coming years to retain a minor league franchise, according to the DSC’s report.“A lot of work has been done, but it almost never stops … The Nationals have a lot of money invested in these players and they want to make sure that the facilities are where they need to be,” McGonigle said.That reality led leaders on all sides to consider the future of the DSC in a Riverfront that is also drastically different today.“When the stadium was first built, the only other significant business enterprise down in the Riverfront was the Big Kahuna. Now you have all these other businesses and it's a great thing, but it does take more coordination,” McGonigle said.The presence of the RDC, another nonprofit established by the state and city to lead redevelopment efforts along the Christina River, has been a catalyst for change in the area, helping to land major employers, develop hotels and entertainment attractions, and build residential apartments. Already owning and managing the neighboring Chase Center of the Riverfront as well as the Delaware Children’s Museum, the Riverfront Market, the Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge and more with a staff of more than a dozen, the RDC was a natural partner to turn to, McGonigle said.“The bottom line is the RDC is fully committed to having minor league baseball here, which is the most important thing. And they have the staff and the resources to pull it off, so it just makes good practical sense to go in this direction,” he said.Moving forward, the DSC board will serve in an advisory role to the RDC, but decision-making authority will transfer to the nonprofit led by Executive Director Megan McGlinchey.“It's kind of a labor of love for the folks who've been involved with it, but I think this is the right move for the long term,” said McGonigle, who has served on the DSC board for 12 years.