The Springfield Cardinals announced a press conference will be held Wednesday at 3 p.m. regarding the future of Hammons Field. Fans are invited to attend the event, which will be held at the ballpark’s training facility.
The ownership of Hammons Field, and the future of the Cardinals, have been uncertain ever since the Revocable Trust of John Q. Hammons filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2016, about three years after the Springfield hotelier’s death.
The location is one of importance to civic leaders ever since the city leased Hammons the land on which he built the home of the Cardinals and Missouri State Bears baseball teams. The ballpark, unlike dozens of Hammons-built hotels, remained in possession of the trust, with the understanding that it would one day be sold. And in federal court filings, only one potential buyer was ever identified by name — the City of Springfield.
“The City’s main concern has always been that this is where the Springfield Cardinals play,” Daniel Dooley, an attorney representing the city, said during a 2021 hearing. “Springfield isn’t a giant metropolis. This stadium really is an issue of quality of life in Springfield. And it’s a very important asset to them.”
The city already owns most of the land beneath Hammons Field. The ballpark was built thanks to a partnership between the City of Springfield, whose city manager at the time, Tom Finnie, offered land to anyone who could construct a stadium that would lure a minor league team to the Queen City. Hammons, the city’s famed developer, accepted the challenge. The ownership agreement is a unique one in the Texas League, where eight out of 10 stadiums are owned by the home cities where they play.
The Double-A Cardinals team is one of a few minor league affiliates owned by its parent club, the St. Louis Cardinals. The team was previously located in Tennessee before moving to Springfield in 2005, shortly after Hammons Field was built. But in recent years, attorneys for the team have complained in federal and state court hearings and filings about the declining quality of the stadium, as well as a lack of progress on significant upgrades that must be made per Major League Baseball policy. The current lease expires in 2030, and the Cardinals have an opt-out clause that could be exercised in January 2025. Attorneys for the team have threatened that a move could be made if a stadium upgrade plan isn’t presented to MLB by the end of the 2023 season.
The Hammons trust’s largest creditor, JD Holdings, assumed ownership of many of the hotels Hammons built throughout his career. The JQH Trust held onto the stadium, with JD Holdings agreeing to cover operating costs. The owner of the parking lot to the south of the stadium (between Trafficway and St. Louis Street) is listed as 946 E. Trafficway LLC, and the attorney representing the LLC is also an Atrium Hospitality employee. Atrium Hospitality is a subsidiary of JD Holdings.
In 2021, the Cardinals released a statement criticizing JD Holdings and Atrium Hospitality for increasing parking fees to $20 per game, an “outrageous price” the team said was meant to gouge fans. Attorneys for the Cardinals said the same in a lawsuit filed in Greene County Circuit Court against JD Holdings, and two related trusts: the Revocable Trust of John Q. Hammons (and its trustees Jacqueline Dowdy and Greggory Groves); and the John Q. Hammons Charitable Trust (and its trustee John Casale). Dowdy and Groves are also trustees of the Charitable Trust. The case remains open, although two attorneys who represented the Cardinals filed motions last month to withdraw as counsel.
During the hearing, when Dooley explained the importance of the ballpark and the Cardinals, Laurence Frazen, an attorney representing the Cardinals, said the city could lose the club. He told a federal judge that “there is a real danger that Springfield and Southwest Missouri baseball fans are going to lose professional baseball if — you know, what we have here is the (Hammons) trust and the city are playing a game of chicken and the Cardinals and the baseball fans of Springfield and Southwest Missouri are caught squarely in the middle.”
But in November 2021, there were signs in federal filings of a thaw in negotiations. The city, which had filed an appeal of a ruling tied to Hammons Field, requested that the appeal be withdrawn. An attorney for the Hammons trusts agreed to the terms. Things have been publicly quiet for months since then.
Perhaps that could change Wednesday afternoon.