This article has been updated.
Gathering at home plate at Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium on Thursday, members of the new San Antonio Missions owner group highlighted the value of local ownership in the hometown team.
Designated Bidders LLC closed on a deal this week to purchase the minor league team from the California-based Elmore Sports Group, which had owned the team since 1987. With the ownership transition completed, the new owners said they are now turning their focus to coming up with a plan for a new stadium.
“We had a lot of conversations with Judge [Nelson] Wolff over the years about local ownership, and I think today is the start of something that is really going to be very important for baseball over the years,” said Burl Yarborough, president of the Missions Baseball Club.
The group of investors that includes developer Graham Weston, Spurs Chairman Peter J. Holt, other local business executives and civic leaders is reported to have acquired the team for $28 million, a figure they would not confirm.
The acquisition has been in the works since February, said Bruce Hill, who will serve as the point person for the ownership with Major League Baseball and also is a member of the San Antonio Spurs’ ownership group.
“When I was approached by the Elmores to possibly put together a group to invest in the Missions, of course the first thing that came to my mind is, does San Antonio want baseball, do they want to continue the tradition of 117 years in San Antonio?” Hill said. “Obviously, the answer is yes.”
Using a baseball metaphor, he called the transition a leadoff solo home run, adding, “We’re going to start here and build on that.”
That will take more than what the new ownership group has already pitched in.
At least 42 cities have lost their baseball teams in the last two years because the facilities did not meet MLB standards, Hill said. “We have clearly come together to make sure that does not happen to San Antonio.”
The Missions are members of the Double-A Texas League as an affiliate of MLB’s San Diego Padres. Any change to that would not happen anytime soon because of the 10-year professional development license held by the new owners, Hill said, and the decision would be made by MLB.
But Hill also suggested that it would take a new ballpark in San Antonio to move the team up the ranks.
“It’s the largest market in the country without a major league team so Major League Baseball would love nothing better than having a Triple-A team,” he said.
Speculation has swirled for years over where a new stadium would be built and what it would cost. In 2016, city officials commissioned a feasibility study to look into potential sites for a stadium.
At the time, the Missions had the lowest average attendance in the Texas League over the past five seasons, according to the study. More seats and more parking are needed.
The report also offered up seven possible sites for a stadium in or near downtown, three of which were near Fox Tech High School. The others included the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures at Hemisfair, a spot near the downtown campus of UTSA and Irish Flats, an area near U.S. Highway 281 and Brooklyn Avenue.
In many cities, placing new ballparks downtown has helped catalyze the urban core, according to an October article in Forbes.
“That renewal in turn has triggered a virtuous cycle,” wrote the author, Jeffrey Steele. “It has sparked development of new homes and opening of new eateries, shops and businesses in central cities. … You might say the [minor league baseball] downtown stadium is the gift that keeps on giving.”
The city’s study also noted that it is becoming more difficult for public entities to fund the construction of sports facilities due to high costs and public resistance.
The City of San Antonio reassigned the current stadium lease, which runs through 2031, to the new owners.
What a new stadium would cost depends on when and where it’s built, Hill said.
“We’re going to be working with the city and the county on it, and it’s going to be something that works well for everybody, not just for ownership or anybody else,” he said.
As for whether a new stadium would be paid for in part or whole by the public, as were the AT&T Center and the Alamodome, it’s too early to tell, said Randy Smith, CEO of the downtown development group Weston Urban.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he has not seen a proposal yet that involves public support for a stadium. But “any proposed public involvement is going to come with a significant look at what’s the public benefit and in order to do that you want assurances that the team is here to stay,” he said. “Local ownership gives us that assurance.”
Finding a site for a new ballpark is next on the owners’ agenda, Smith said, adding that he thinks a centrally located stadium would be a “huge plus” for the community.
Most new ballparks sit on plots of between 7 and 8 acres, although the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas play in a stadium set on 5 acres, the smallest in the league. The property dimensions are what’s most important, Smith said.
The owners group is banking on its collective professional skill set to do site selection, he added, and improve conditions that ensure the team remains viable.
“It’s a group that reflects the makeup of our city and has one goal — to help ensure the long-term future of professional baseball in San Antonio,” said Bob Cohen, a member of the group. “We’ve assembled a strong, experienced and capable team that knows and loves this city and knows how to get things done.”
Cohen, a former Clear Channel Communications executive who brings sports media to the group, added that he has dreamed of owning a minor league baseball team for 20 years.
Operating the team will be Ryan Sanders Baseball, an organization owned by the families of baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, CEO Reid Ryan, and Don Sanders. Ryan Sanders have established the Texas league teams, the Round Rock Express and the Corpus Christi Hooks.
“I literally have grown up in the game of baseball,” said Reid Ryan. “It has given my family everything we have. And to work in this game is an honor and a privilege that I hold dear.”
The organization’s goal is to put fans first in everything they do, he said. “We operate with one simple belief — that without the fans, none of us have jobs.”
New team owner Hope Andrade, former Texas secretary of state and local businesswoman, said she is confident that San Antonio’s economic development teams are celebrating the transition to local ownership.
“As my grandson said when I gave him the news this past weekend … Grandma, this is the grand slam for San Antonio.”
Graham Weston’s 80|20 Foundation, La Familia Cortez and Spurs Give are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.