Committee of the Whole opts to have staff examine Ball Hall funding request

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Adam Stephens, right, of Miller Thomson, presents the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Strategic Plan to the Committee of the Whole Tuesday as the Hall’s operations manager Scott Crawford, centre, looks on.
By Dan Rankin
Tuesday evening at the St. Marys Town Hall, the Committee of the Whole and a packed crowd of baseball fans heard a presentation on the future plans for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, based on the organization’s Strategic Master Plan.
In the plan, the Hall seeks to expand operations to a new 7,100 sq. ft. “Program and Visitor Centre” featuring new exhibition space and an auditorium, as well as build a new pavilion adjacent to the ball fields to support games and tournaments and a “baseball timeline” trail with outdoor exhibits.
Such a plan will involve $5 million in capital costs and $1.36 million in transition costs, of which the Hall seeks an investment from the Town of St. Marys in the form of a $550,000 one-time capital contribution and then annual core funding contributions of $150,000. The package submitted by the Hall to the Committee shows that the $550,000 capital investment would represent 8 percent of the campaign’s revenue and be “essential” for leveraging another $2.5 million in federal and provincial grants and over $2.5 million in private donations from the “baseball community, sponsors and funders.”
“There is no Stage Two otherwise,” said St. Marys native Adam Stephens, a partner at the firm Miller Thomson, who presented the request for support alongside Tammy Adkin, manager of the Guelph Civic Museum and formerly of Museum London and the London Children’s Museum.
The annual $150,000 contribution would represent 19 percent of the Hall’s annual operating budget, which a table in the report shows is “in line with other municipal contributions to non-profit cultural organizations in Ontario.”
Presented with three options by staff (denying the request, accepting the request in principle, or referring the request to staff so they can conduct a business and financial plan and legal due diligence before reporting back with their findings), in a recorded vote the Committee opted to refer the request to staff. Coun. Van Galen was the lone objecting vote.
Stephens and Adkin stressed how the Hall’s plan is vital to the interests of both the Town and the Hall; permitting the Hall to meet its mandate and allowing the Town to reap the benefits of national media attention and increased tourism. As part of developing their strategic plan, the Hall interviewed expert consultants White Oaks Associates, Inc. and BaAM Productions
Other benefits the Town could look forward to, according to the report, include a new $5 million capital asset on town-owned land, 33 new jobs for the duration of the capital project and 17 permanent jobs, and $6 million generated in the region annually.
Based on the planned improvements to the site which would make the museum a year-round operation, the strategic plan estimates attendance to the site would more than double, from roughly 26,000 per year (3,000 through museum visitors and induction plus 23,000 for baseball games) to over 54,000 (16,000 museum visitors plus induction plus 38,000 for baseball games). Those figures represent visits to the site, not individual people.
According to Stephens, there is impatience in the Hall’s board of directors over the lack of progress, and “the status quo is not an option.”
In order to conduct funding requests to the federal and provincial governments this year, so that designs for the museum and its exhibitions can be completed the following year, ground-breaking could take place in 2018 and the grand opening be held in 2019, “The time is now,” Stephens said.
He stacked the Hall of Fame against other investment priorities as listed by Town staff, pointing out that the Hall is the investment that could bring meaningful positive change to the town, attracting new tourists. “Infrastructure projects, when completed, will improve and maintain the physical infrastructure of the town, but after completion, the town will look the same, and little of what is necessary will have changed.”
Coun. Van Galen took issue with that statement during the question period that followed, stating that “the other needs the town has are things the town can’t say no to, like roads and sewers.”
He also said that while the Hall and Town have had a mutually beneficial, cost-sharing relationship in previous projects, such as the creation of King Field to help the Town develop its core service commitment for recreation, “This is something far different.”
“It’s difficult to find justification,” Coun. Van Galen said.
Regarding the option selected by the Committee, to conduct due diligence to investigate the figures and claims in the Hall’s strategic plan, CAO/clerk Brent Kittmer said the process could cost around $15,000-$25,000 for the Town and that it “wouldn’t be fast,” but he thought it would take less than a year.
After the meeting, manager of operations at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame Scott Crawford told the Independent he thought it had been an excellent meet. “That is what we were hoping for,” he said. “We look forward to working with the Town of St. Marys. We’ve heard from the provincial and federal government that we need to get [St. Marys Council's] support first and this is a great step.”