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Spokane

CdA ballpark backers get boost from Brett

Wed., Aug. 15, 2012

They call it the Field of Dreams, but backers of a proposed $2.7 million ballpark in east Coeur d’Alene hope to move it closer to reality in the next year.

On Tuesday they pitched the concept to the city’s Parks Commission with an endorsement from Bobby Brett, owner of the Spokane Indians and Spokane Chiefs.

“If you have nice facilities, people will go and spend their entertainment dollars there,” Brett told commissioners.

Supporters want the city to build the facility at Cherry Hill Park using private donations, then own and operate it for baseball and other uses.

Irv Zakheim, owner of the Spokane RiverHawks collegiate summer league club, wants to move his team to the new ballpark and resume play in the West Coast League for the 2014 wood-bat season.

“Coeur d’Alene is a perfect city for the West Coast League,” Zakheim said. “Spokane’s too big of a town. It also has the Indians (that) we can’t compete with.”

The RiverHawks, idle the past three seasons, would play 30 home games a year and could draw crowds of at least 700 to 800 a night, he said. The league average attendance is about 1,200, he added.

Fans would get to see some young players who go on to the minors and a few who may make it to Major League Baseball, he said.

“Most of us run it like a minor-league franchise,” Zakheim said.

Few other summer sports in Coeur d’Alene would compete with the RiverHawks games, Brett said.

“You hope that this becomes the sport of the summer,” he said.

The 850-seat park would be north of Interstate 90 and on the east side of 15th Street. It would have artificial field turf with an outfield that could be used for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse games, supporters say.

In addition to the RiverHawks as primary tenant, the park would be available for American Legion, high school and Little League baseball games.

The RiverHawks would lease the park from the city, though Brett and Zakheim both stressed that the deal would need to ensure the franchise remains profitable. Zakheim estimated the franchise would generate revenue of $350,000 to $450,000 a season, and would pay three or four salaried employees plus travel and marketing expenses.

Doug Eastwood, the city’s parks director, told commissioners, “This looks to me like a real good fit for Coeur d’Alene.”

A fundraising effort coordinated by the Panhandle Parks Foundation would need to secure enough donations by next spring to move ahead with construction in time for the RiverHawks to play there starting in 2014. The team’s season would run from late May to mid-August.

No major sponsors have committed to the project yet, but Ron Ouren, chairman of the fundraising campaign, said he hopes to nail down $1 million to $1.5 million in pledges in the next few months. Major naming-rights opportunities, he said, include $1 million for the whole complex, $750,000 for the field and $250,000 for the scoreboard.

A public campaign for smaller contributions will begin next year, Ouren said.

The Parks Commission will vote on whether to endorse the project next Monday, and the City Council could take up the proposal within the next few weeks.



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