Springfield City Manager Jason Gage talks during a Feb. 1, 2023 press conference about the city’s deal to purchase Hammons Field. Listening is Springfield Cardinals general manager Dan Reiter. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

When the Springfield Cardinals charge out of the first base dugout to take the field for Opening Day April 6, they will do it inside an officially city-owned stadium.

The City of Springfield touched third base — clearing U.S. Bankruptcy Court — and headed for home plate — closing on the property, the city said in an announcement on March 28.

On Feb. 1, the city announced it had reached a $16 million deal to purchase and upgrade Hammons Field. The stadium is home to the Springfield Cardinals, the Double-A minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Along with paying $12 million for the properties, the city has committed to funding $4 million worth of improvements as part of the deal, and the Cardinals have agreed to extend their lease through 2038.

“We have the Double-A franchise of the most popular Major League team in the Midwest,” Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said. “They add a vibrancy, excitement and level of entertainment as well as foster a great degree of community pride. Having a major league club own its minor league affiliate is very rare. We plan to be the home to the Springfield Cardinals for generations to come.”

Hammons Field is also home to the Missouri State Bears baseball team. The Cardinals’ current lease was set to expire in 2030, but the Cardinals held an option to opt out of the lease as early as January of 2025. Attorneys for the team have said an exit was likely if the ownership situation remained unresolved, and improvements to the stadium were not made. Cardinals executives said the improvements are needed to bring the stadium into compliance with the standards Major League Baseball sets for its affiliated minor league stadiums.

“The St. Louis Cardinals have long enjoyed a strong relationship with the Springfield community, and we look forward to continuing it for many years to come,” St. Louis Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said. “The Cardinals organization shares a special connection with Springfield and southwest Missouri, and we cherish the enthusiastic support you have provided our team and players for nearly two decades.”

Want to watch the big Cardinals Opening Day at Hammons Field?

The City of Springfield and the Springfield Cardinals host an Opening Day watch party at Hammons Field with free admission Thursday, March 30. The St. Louis Cardinals host the Toronto Blue Jays at 2:10 p.m. Springfield Cardinals fans are invited to come to Hammons Field and watch the game on the outfield big screen.

The bankruptcy court ruling was needed because of the stadium’s former owner, the John Q. Hammons charitable trust, went into bankruptcy in the years that followed Hammons’ death in 2013. 

A separate settlement agreement resolves issues between the Cardinals and JD Holdings and owner-investor Jonathan Eilian. In early 2020, the Cardinals sued JD Holdings and three Hammons trustees, claiming a breach of contract due to a lack of stadium improvements. 

In court filings, attorneys for the charitable trust have said money from the stadium sale will go toward preserving Hammons legacy through charitable endeavors. Attorney Gregg Groves said the specifics were not finalized at the time the purchase agreement was announced on Feb. 1. 

“It’ll go to the John Q. Hammons Foundation, and those decisions have not been made yet and will not be made until after everything is approved,” he said. “But those proceeds will help.”

Dollars at play

A baseball player prepares to throw a pitch
Springfield Cardinals’ pitcher Dalton Roach survived a close encounter with a bear while deer hunting last winter. Now, he’s hunting for advancement in the St. Louis system. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

Springfield will use unrestricted money from its general fund and revenue from the city’s level property tax to pay for the stadium purchase.

Springfield is projected to take in $9.98 million in level property taxes by July 2023, and another $10.18 million in level property taxes by July 1, 2024, based off 2-percent adjusted growth estimates. The level property tax revenue is used to fund police, fire and public works projects, but also has an “economic vitality project pool” line item built into its budget sheets. 

The Cardinals will pay $650,000 per year in rent, which General Manager Dan Reiter says is the highest rate for rent the team has ever had. He said unlike in other cities, the Springfield Cardinals won’t propose any sales tax additions or amendments to finance baseball stadium upgrades.

The Springfield Cardinals join a fraternity of nine Texas League teams to play in municipally-owned stadiums. Only Riders Field, home of the Frisco Roughriders in Frisco, Texas, is a privately held stadium.

Here, facing southwest, you can see the parking lot near Hammons Field. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

The lease agreement between the city of Springfield and the Springfield Cardinals calls for the Cards’ rent money to be split into two pots: operating funds and capital improvement funds.

The breakdown of the deal is as follows: 

  • $6.5 million to the John Q. Hammons Charitable Trust to purchase the rights to its ground lease with the city, as well as the trust’s rights to purchase the stadium and land under the stadium. 
  • $5.5 million to an LLC linked to JD Holdings, the company that assumed most of Hammons properties after his estate filed for bankruptcy, for parking lots that will now be managed by the Cardinals. 
  • A $4 million capital improvement fund to make immediate MLB-mandated facility improvements.
  • A 15-year lease agreement with the Cardinals that keeps the team in Springfield through at least 2038. The current lease expires in 2030, but the Cardinals held an option to opt out of the lease as early as January of 2025, which attorneys for the team have said was likely if the ownership situation remained unresolved.  
People who are enjoying a Springfield Cardinals game on the berm at Hammons Field.
Fans enjoy a late summer Springfield Cardinals game in 2021 at Hammons Field. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

Rance Burger

Rance Burger is the managing editor for the Daily Citizen. He previously covered local governments from February 2022 to April 2023. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger