Franklin Rogers to get a $3 million face-lift

Franklin Rogers to get a $3 million face-lift


Mankato, Minn. — June 27, 2017 — “The Frank” won’t have to be renamed “The Filet Mignon,” but Mankato’s utilitarian ballpark will become somewhat more ritzy by the start of the 2018 baseball season.

Franklin Rogers Ballpark will get an artificial turf playing surface, new dugouts with attached concessions stands, new restrooms and an additional seating area above the home dugout under a $3.2 million upgrade tentatively approved by the City Council.

Work is expected to begin shortly after the Mankato MoonDogs finish their current season.

“It’s going to be phenomenal to have that in the community,” said Austin Link, interim general manager of the MoonDogs, the primary tenant of the baseball field, but also referring to the benefit for high school and youth teams.

More than a half-century old, the ballpark was somewhat improved after the MoonDogs (then called the Mashers) arrived in 1999 as an expansion team in the Northwoods League, a summer wood-bat league for top-notch college baseball players from around the nation. The city spent about $500,000 to renovate the grandstand and improve the field lighting, and the team added some wooden party decks.

The basic infrastructure of the field, however, has been deteriorating. The council for years has acknowledged the need for improvements to the restrooms and the playing surface and to make the park compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Approval of a local sales tax extension by voters in November and by the Legislature in May provided the funding source.

The only question was whether the council wanted to spend an extra $300,000 for artificial turf and whether they wanted to push ahead with the improvements at the end of the baseball season or hold off for another year.

“To proceed with the project for a ’17-’18 construction project, we’d have to start the project in September,” City Manager Pat Hentges told the council during a work session this week.

On the turf question, a majority of the council indicated support for the higher-cost, lower-maintenance plastic grass. The turf itself is projected to cost $510,000, but the total additional cost of that approach compared to natural grass is $382,000 because it doesn’t require as much spending for drainage and irrigation.

Operational costs are also less for turf compared to grass, including savings in labor, fertilizer and water. Hentges said most of those savings should be set aside in a reserve because the turf will need to be replaced in roughly 15 years.

But the fake turf will make the facility much more usable, he said, allowing Franklin Rogers to stand up to two or more games in a single day and allow the city to bid for state tournaments. City Engineer Jeff Johnson said artificial turf also would permit softball or baseball games to begin much earlier in the spring — as early as March or even February if a stretch of warm weather hits.

Nearly $1.2 million is slated for the multi-purpose buildings that will be added, serving as dugouts, concessions stands, restrooms, locker rooms and storage. The building on the first-base side would also have lofted seating on top. Those amenities ultimately persuaded the council to begin construction this year rather than next.

The field is in such poor shape that player safety is an issue, said Council member Karen Foreman, explaining her willingness to approve construction this fall.

“Accessibility, too, for people wanting to watch the game,” said Council member Trudy Kunkel. “… And the restrooms are nasty.”

A feasibility report completed by engineering firm ISG also includes a second phase of improvements costing nearly $3.1 million, but the council indicated no interest in moving forward with those amenities anytime soon.

“My expectation is that in the second phase, those partners would be the significant contributors,” said Council President Mike Laven, referring to the MoonDogs and possibly other local baseball organizations.

Phase 2 includes a more dramatic entrance to the ballpark near the right foul pole, leading into a spectator plaza that would stretch to the grandstand and continue down the left field line. A new multi-level “Dog Pound” party deck and a larger press box would be built, and a berm would be added around much of the outfield to allow ticket buyers a more casual spot to watch ballgames.

ISG engineer Chuck Brandel said some of the projects could easily shift from one phase to the other. He recommended adding the berm as part of Phase 1 because the field work, which includes relocating the field to reduce the amount of foul territory, will create excess dirt that could be used to build part of the berm.

Johnson agreed, noting that the city’s planned Adams Street extension project also will generate excess soil that could be used for the berm.

And Link isn’t ruling out the possibility of the MoonDogs tossing in some money or some fundraising to add a couple of the Phase 2 amenities as part of the upcoming project.

“I think there’s definitely some opportunity there,” Link said.

Either way, he’s already looking ahead to the first home game of the 2018 season.

“It’s an exciting time, and I think our fans deserve it,” Link said. “It’ll be great to have them come out to a new ballpark when opening day arrives, and I think there will be a lot of buzz around here.”

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