10 Extra Innings For Blue Wahoos
Get ready for another decade of minor league baseball in Pensacola. Blue Wahoos Stadium will continue to be the home of its namesake team.
Heading into its 10th season in 2022, the Wahoos and the city of Pensacola have reached an agreement to renew the lease for the stadium in the form of two, five-year terms.
“The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are such an integral part of the Community Maritime Park in downtown Pensacola,” said Mayor Grover Robinson. It’s one thing we got ‘em here; it’s now we can show an extended [deal]. Because you see other places like Mobile, other places that have been unable to keep their franchises,” he said. “And I think it really speaks to a lot of the things that we’ve done here.”
And that work on the ballpark is continuing.
“Moving to artificial turf which I think will be better to handle football and baseball, and do the other baseball improvements to the stadium in the off-season this year,” the mayor said during his weekly news conference. “Those will all be integral to keeping baseball here for another 10 years. And the vibrancy which it brings to the community.”
That vibrancy, said the mayor, was another goal in luring and hosting minor league baseball here.
“We’re very excited about having that opportunity; it was another thing that was so important that we wanted to get accomplished here and extended,” Robinson said. “That was huge.”
“It’s interesting because we never called it ‘negotiations,’” said Blue Wahoos co-owner Quint Studer. “When Mayor Robinson and I sat down we said, ‘How do we come up with a solution?’”
Studer, who also owns the High-A Beloit (Wisconsin) Snappers, says the Pensacola lease talks also involved a more-than-interested third party.
“Not only the lease but to have a facility that now met the new requirements for Major League Baseball; so you had to have both,” said Studer. “For Major League Baseball, they have to approve all leases, and they won’t approve a lease at a facility that doesn’t meet their requirements.”
The two, five-year leases were signed, rather than one, 10-year agreement, said Studer, as a matter of expedience.
“When we signed the original 10-year lease, there were two, five-year renewals; so basically what we did — just to make it easy — we just said, ‘let’s do both five-year renewals right now,’” Studer said. “So it was a matter of just less paperwork [and] less legal fees to do it that way.”
Once the agreement was reached, the new lease proposal was approved unanimously by the Pensacola City Council. Looking back the first 10 years, Studer says it’s turned out much better than expected. One example of that is the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
“When you look at the CRA and see that it’s [now] $1.1 billion, versus $600-or-so million,” said Studer. “If you look at the amount of activities at the stadium and at the park, it’s really become the central point for this community. People get visitors from out of town, they take them to the stadium.”
During the past decade, Studer says there have been no drawbacks at the stadium, but he did point to local government making decisions over the other parcels at Maritime Park, which led to losing some opportunities.
“I still believe that the [YMCA] should have been Parcel-A; the Center for Entrepreneurship should have been there — those types of things,” said Studer. “I think that’s probably been the biggest loss — the lost opportunities or all of those parcels would be full already if we had taken advantage of all the offers that had come in.”
The new lease for the ballpark does not include the separate affiliation agreement with the parent club Miami Marlins. But Studer says while they are different deals, they do coincide.
“Basically, we have a 10-year PDL, Professional Development License, with the Marlins, but it only works if you have an approved facility and Major League Baseball approves the lease,” he said. “Even though they’re not tied together, they are; in essence, [they] go together.”
Blue Wahoos Stadium has had a decorated first decade — a two-time recipient of Ballpark Digest’s Best Double-A facility, and four-time Southern League Ballpark of the Year.
Work to comply with Major League Baseball mandates will crank into high gear at the end of the University of West Florida’s football season. There are three major projects, says co-owner Quint Studer, to bring the field up to major league standards.
“LED lighting, which is just better anyway, it’s better for the environment, better all-around and it’s more focused,” Studer said. “Turf, and then moving the bullpens — that’s the hardest big thing to figure out. Major League Baseball. And I don’t blame them — [I] don’t like bullpens on the field because of injuries. And they’ve had injuries.”
During the Pensacola Blue Wahoo’s nine seasons — the Southern League didn’t play in 2020 because of the pandemic — The stadium has welcomed more than 2.5 million fans.
On the field, the team has made three trips to the Southern League playoffs, including a co-championship with Jacksonville in 2017, when severe weather led to the cancellation of the championship round.