OKC bond issue could include softball stadium expansion
Brian Brus
The Journal Record
Chris Sebren, director of national teams with USA Softball, stands in the bleachers at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City Thursday. (Photo by Brent Fuchs)
OKLAHOMA CITY – A plan by the Amateur Softball Association to expand its Oklahoma City stadium might depend on how taxpayers feel about their next big bond issue.
The ASA/USA Softball Hall of Fame Museum and four-field complex in northeast Oklahoma City has earned its status as the nation’s top softball venue by hosting the annual NCAA Women’s College World Series since 1990, said Chris Sebren, the organization’s director of teams. To continue providing the best experience possible to sellout crowds – and ensure economic benefit to the city – the stadium needs a little more space for seating, he said.
“For the stadium hosting the largest softball event in the United States in the college world series … we need additional seats to handle the crowds,” Sebren said.
The city’s next general obligation bond issue will come up for a citywide vote this year. It is a regular feature of municipal government in Oklahoma for funding projects such as street repairs, police station buildings and rainwater drainage systems. Each issue is planned to provide funds for several years at a time, which means voters are asked to support a huge figure.
The last GO bond issue in 2007 totaled $835.5 million. This year, city officials are still weighing factors such as interest rates, payoff periods and the overall debt load Oklahoma City can support.
Finance Director Craig Freeman said the GO bond program will need to fall between $400 million and $1.4 billion. The smaller figure represents 16 mills of property valuation tax repaid over five years; the larger represents 20 mills over 10 years. The City Council will address the fine points of finances at a budgeting workshop April 18.
The projects that the bond money will support will also be addressed. The softball organization, based in Oklahoma City near Remington Park, would like some financial assistance to build out the stadium before the NCAA’s agreement expires with the 2020 tournament series.
Sue Hollenbeck, director of sports business for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said the softball event is one of the city’s biggest economic producers, with interstate visitors filling hundreds of hotel rooms and restaurant tables for a week at a time. Each game in the series last year drew more than 8,000 spectators; the overall series tally totaled about 78,000. With softball and baseball being returned to the Olympic Games for 2020 in Tokyo, media coverage can only bolster the brand awareness of Oklahoma City, she said.
Sebren said his group would like to expand the press box and add an upper deck for more seats in the stadium. The building has 5,000 permanent seats, so an additional 4,000 bleacher seats had to be brought in for the world series crowd. With outfield seating, that would bring capacity up to about 13,000.
Stacey Hepp, marketing director for the national governing body of U.S. softball, said softball’s biggest competitor these days is entertainment technology that draws youngsters away from physical activity. In addition to the economic benefit of increasing stadium ticket sales, an expansion with more space for media outlets would help win the electronic market space.
Not expanding could risk the city’s host status with the NCAA, ASA Membership Director John Miller said.
“The NCAA could look at us and say, ‘Well, we really need a bigger venue,’ and the event could be moved somewhere else, I guess,” Miller said.
He also said the expenditure would benefit more than a single, Division I season-ender. Miller cited the Division III series, World Cup and 30 other events held in Oklahoma City each year.