Malden and a private group have discussed building a minor-league quality stadium at the edge of Malden Center. Play Ball is a three-part series exploring the idea, its viability, details, and players involved. In Part one, we discuss the overall plan. Tomorrow, we will profile the prime mover of the plan, Alexander Bok. Finally, on Thursday, we'll examine the potential roadblocks preventing the stadium's construction in Malden.
Is Malden the future home of an independent league baseball team? A group of investors led by Alexander Bok think they can build a state-of-the-art stadium in Malden Center and draw a successful franchise to the community. How, when and if it can be done, however, is up in the air.
It sounds like the same sort of municipal development fantasy most cities and towns dabble in, combining multi-million dollar private investment with infrastructure improvements to convert long-underutilized property into a vital part of the community. In Malden, however, there are real players in place working on concrete plans, even if there are no guarantees of success.
Bok believes his group, Boston Field of Dreams, has the right veteran baseball investors, architects, engineers and financial personnel in place, and the group has the financial and logistical wherewithal to build a stadium. All they need is a place to build, and they could have shovels in the ground within 18 months, according to Bok.
The group and some city officials think they've found that location on the edge of Malden Center. The property in question is National Grid's nine-acre facility at the corner of Commercial and Centre streets. The industrial expanse is increasingly out of place with a center now totally devoted to office and retail space.
"The mayor [Richard Howard], myself and [MRA Project Developer for Economic Development] Debbie [Burke] have been talking to a group called Boston Field of Dreams who have decided they want to build a minor league baseball field on the National Grid site on Commercial Street," said Malden Redevelopment Authority Director Stephen Wishoski. "We've been working with them for a couple of years now, and they, in turn, have been working with National Grid to make a deal."
National Grid is actively considering whether it should decamp from the site and combine operations at its Medford Street location in Bell Rock, near the Malden River, according to company spokesperson David Graves, but no decision has been made.
If the company makes the move, if Bok's group buys or leases the site, if they can come to amenable terms with the city, and if they can secure a franchise with an independent league, the stadium could be built.
That's a lot of ifs, but Bok thinks most, if not all, of them are achievable in a short period of time.
"They seem well-poised to put together a deal like this," said Wishoski.
What's the plan?
Boston Field of Dreams' plans for the National Grid site are impressive: A 6,000-seat stadium built to minor league baseball specifications. The $30–$35 million, privately funded facility would house wide concourses, outfield lawn areas for family picnics and, of course, plenty of concession stands. The park design would allow for further expansion to 8–9,000 seats in the same footprint.
"The stadium we're modeling ourselves after is in Springfield, Missouri," he said, referring to Hammons Field, where the St. Louis Cardinals' Single-A affiliate team plays.
The current vision also calls for a winter bubble to cap the playing surface, making it usable in winter months for local school and private organization, said Bok. The bubble is a large, removable canopy that will give groups access to the field, preserved from the snow and sub-freezing New England weather.
Bok said the bubble is designed to make the facility a true part of the community.
"There's a social capital piece to this. One has a facility that used by the community as much as possible. The concept is a Field Turf field which can be used by anyone, whether its community groups or Malden High School," said Bok. "The goal is to have a year-round facility."
Why in Malden? Why the National Grid site?
Malden Center's two parking garages are a big draw for Boston Field of Dreams, said Wishoski. The garages are nearly empty by 4 p.m. each day, leaving plenty of space for baseball fans to park their cars.
The site's proximity to the Malden Center T station was another draw, giving the stadium a lifeline to both an urban audience coming in on the Orange Line and better access to the northern suburbs with the Commuter Rail, said Bok. One option would include building a walkway from the T station to the stadium, giving pedestrians unfettered access to the site without waiting for traffic at street level.
"We've had two other sites that didn't work out," said Bok, referring to efforts to build near Boston College High School and Bunker Hill Community College."What makes this [Malden] site incredibly attractive is you're near a metropolitan downtown, near parking garages, and near subway and commuter rail."
Traffic is an obvious concern for any large-scale stadium. Anyone who's driven or taken the T to Fenway Park knows how thousands of people in a small location grinds movement to a halt. Bok said the pattern for minor league baseball is more diffused, as people come hours beforehand to eat, show up late for the game because tickets are always available at the gate, and leave early if the game gets out of hand.
"It's spread out," said Bok, who said traffic studies back up the claim.
Bok said his group would try to secure rights to use both of Malden's municipal parking garages on game nights.
"We discussed it with the city, about making that happen," said Bok. "We've been talking with them for a while."
The stadium would occupy most or all of the block bordered by Commercial, Center, Canal and Charles streets. National Grid owns the biggest parcel there, but there are three other plots in that block. Bok said the group has had preliminary discussions with the other property owners but declined to characterize the conversations or how amenable other owners were to selling.
Would Malden Have to Kick in Funding for the Stadium?
Bok said the planned project is privately financed, but thought there could be some mutually beneficial places where Malden may want to invest taxpayer money. None of that money would be used for the facility, but to help with access to the site and Malden Center, he said.
"There may be some help on infrastructure around the edges and some—not substantial—public support," said Bok.