The Altoona Curve, Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, have played an integral part in the tourism and community landscape of Blair County since their inception in 1999.
Altoona Curve games have been hosted at Peoples Natural Gas Field, one of the premier fields in Minor League Baseball, for the last 18 seasons. However, in those 18 years, capital improvements to the facility have been made only once.
Since those improvements, made following the 2002 season, the infrastructure of the ballpark and surrounding property has gone relatively untouched.
As a result, necessary items, such as lighting standards, have become out of date and need updated to be up-to-par with the rest of Minor League Baseball.
For the last two years, representatives from Minor and Major League Baseball, Altoona Curve ownership, Blair County, and the Lakemont Partnership (the land-owners on which PNG Field sits) have been meeting to discuss the improvements and changes that need to be made for PNG Field to continue hosting Curve games for years to come. Those meetings have been contentious at times. From Altoona Mirror reporter Cory Giger’s original report back in June of this year, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn had this to say on the early negotiations:
“I’m pretty frustrated with the landlord,” McEacharn said. “We’ve simply been unable to reach a lease agreement. We haven’t really been able to even engage with him. We have reached the point where we need a long-term commitment for a lease (usually 10 years).”
In addition to McEacharn’s frustration with the LMP, various sources have told Pirates Breakdown that the owners themselves – Bob and Joan Lozinak – were initially hesitant to engage in putting up their fair share of the money needed for the improvements. Since then, ownership has come back to the negotiations in good faith.
Regardless of how they arrived at them, the results of those meetings found both short-term and long-term improvements necessary to keep Minor League Baseball in Altoona.
According to a report acquired by Pirates Breakdown, the needs for PNG Field are both long and short term.
Short-term improvements listed via that report:
- Boiler Replacement $52,000
- Rubber Roof $25,000
- Scoreboard Repairs $10,500
- Heater Replacement $ 4,200
- Miscellaneous $ 8,300
The estimated sum of those immediate improvements equals $100,000 and that takes into consideration an entirely new ticket booth, scoreboard repairs integral to the ballpark atmosphere, as well as the boiler and heater replacement for the general infrastructure of the facility.
Long-term improvements listed via the same report include:
- Ticket Office Replacement $400,000
- Field Lighting $450,000
- Structural Steel Repairs $250,000
- Concrete Repairs $100,000
- Field Replacement $800,000
- Metal Decking Replacement $100,000
- Parking Garage Lighting $100,000
The estimated sum for the long-term improvements comes in at $2,200,000. These improvements will be needed to bring the infrastructure of the facility up to par with the rest of Minor League Baseball.
Finding A Way
To make these improvements, the Altoona Curve, Blair County, and others needed to come up with money and come up with it fast if they wanted professional baseball to stay in Altoona.
Until recently, there was a very strong possibility the Curve would vacate PNG Field and the city of Altoona as a result of the inability to come up with the money necessary to improve the field. Had the Curve wound up leaving, it would have been a catastrophic blow to the smallest market in the Eastern League.
Necessary items, such as lighting standards, have become out of date and need updated to be up-to-par with the rest of Minor League Baseball.
Currently the Curve and PNG Field are one of the top four attractions in Blair County, and in order for the Eastern League to approve a new lease for the Curve and the stadium something needed to be done.
“I’m convinced Altoona and Blair County won’t be able to replace minor league baseball if this deal isn’t reached,” Blair County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said. Such was the bleak outlook before all parties involved put aside their posturing to begin talking in earnest.
In stepped the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation, which devised a fund that would serve as collateral for a potential loan so that the improvements could be completed.
According to materials provided to Pirates Breakdown, the participants in the stakeholders group includes the Lozinaks, The Lakemont Partnership, Blair County, The Blair Convention Center and Sports Facility Authority and the ABCD (Altoona/Blair County Development) Corporation.
A Reason for Optimism
The proposal took advantage of a new Pennsylvania law allowing the Hotel Bed Tax to go from three to five percent to help fund this guaranteed fund as a county tax. 56 percent of the total bed tax collected will be going to the Tourism Promotion Agency for the county, Explore Altoona.
We’re looking for a public-private partnership and want everybody to partner in that
As for the remaining 44 percent of the funds, they will be distributed as follows: 45 percent of the 44 percent of the funds available will go to the Blair County Convention and Sports Authority for capital and long term maintenance projects related to the convention center. 40 percent will go to the ABCD Corporation for administration and operation of the Ballpark Maintenance Fund. The remaining 15 percent will be going to the improvement of county tourism locations.
Along with the funds generated from the Hotel Bed Tax, the fund will be subsidized through contributions from the Altoona Curve ($60,000 per year for 10 years), the Lakemont Partnership ($25,000 per year for 10 years), and the Convention and Sports Authority ($20,000 per year for 10 years).
According to Blair County Commissioner Ted Beam, should the Eastern League approve the new 10-year lease, the Curve would proceed to borrow money for capital improvements such as boiler replacement, rubber roof, scoreboard repairs, heaters, the ticket office, field lighting, structural steel and concrete repair, new field turf, and metal decking replacement.
“This was a lengthy and heavily discussed process,” Commissioner Beam said. “However, it now looks like all entities can survive and proceed with the best interest of the county and all concerned in mind.”
The county is looking towards November 1 as a date to have the fund up and running. The actual Hotel Tax payment from would be expected to be received on 12/31/16 for tax collected in November. This results in funding not being available until December of this year at the earliest.
When contacted by Pirates Breakdown for this story, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn was repeatedly unavailable for comment.
Pirates Breakdown Managing Editor Jason Rollison contributed to this report.
Correction: in an earlier version of this story, Curve owners Bob and Joan Lozinak were incorrectly spelled. Additionally, the ticket booth at PNG Field is to be fully replaced.