With chips of concrete falling near concession stands, rain and snow leaking into the clubhouses and nothing but bent, rickety folding chairs for the most expensive box seats in the house, Derks Field is in desperate need of repair.
Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini toured the 45-year-old, city-owned baseball stadium Friday, the first step toward deciding how much taxpayers will have to pay to restore it and whether the expense is worth the trouble.Rick Graham, the city's acting parks and recreation director, said taxpayers spend between $10,000 and $15,000 each year toward upkeep of the 10,000-seat stadium. But that goes for little more than grooming the field and fixing things that break. Concrete is crumbling and flaking throughout the facility, requiring constant patching.
For the upcoming season, the city has installed a new $14,000 sound system that will be less noisy for neighboring residents. Graham said it is the first investment in the park he can remember.
Salt Lake Trappers General Manager Dave Baggett believes a city that ranked third in attendance throughout all minor leagues last year deserves better.
"The stadium is the main reason we don't have a triple-A ball club," he said, touching on a sore subject for local baseball fans. Salt Lake City for years had a franchise in the triple-A ranks, the highest level of baseball next to the major leagues.
But the team left town in the mid-1980s. Since then, triple-A franchises have become hot items. Some cities build scaled-down versions of big-league parks to attract franchises. The Trappers play in a rookie league, the lowest level of professional baseball.
"The adage is true that if you build it they will come," Baggett said. He uses El Paso as an example, saying it was able to attract a triple-A team after building a stadium. He said the Trappers may be interested in operating such a team but would not stand in the way of anyone else trying to do so, as well.City officials said they will consider all options, including building a new stadium in the parking lot across from Derks Field. First, they want an appraiser to tell them what it will cost to fix the old stadium - at least to the point where no one gets hit in the head with concrete while buying popcorn.
But some officials are skeptical the stadium can be repaired.
"How do you fix the concrete when it just crumbles in your hands?" asked Danny Larsen, a city parks and recreation supervisor.
Corradini and city officials also worry the stadium is not accessible to the handicapped, falling short of new federal guidelines. The cost also will be a major consideration in a year when the city is projecting a $4.2 million shortfall by June 30.
Mike Zuhl, former chief administrator to former Mayor Palmer DePaulis, campaigned unsuccessfully for mayor by urging renovation of the stadium. He said Friday he wanted the city to borrow money for the repairs, selling bonds that would be repaid by higher lease payments from the baseball team and others using the facility. Currently, the Trappers pay about $12,000 per year to lease the stadium.
But Corradini likely will take a different course. She has said she may try to assemble a partnership with private investors to help cover the costs.