Kirk's AAA dream stadium has made it to drawing board


Imagine a baseball stadium that offered box seats for $6, general admission for $4, and "bleacher bum" seating for $2. Imagine this ballpark also offered an outdoor cafe where you could dine and watch baseball from under an umbrella in an area behind home plate. And now imagine this ballpark offered a batting cage, a barber shop and a shoe-shine booth on a concourse midway.

Peter Kirk can imagine it, all right.

This is Kirk's dream. This is the $9 million stadium he wants to build on a tract of land at the intersection of routes 301 and 50 just past Bowie's city limits in Prince George's County. This is the place he wants to put a Triple A baseball team and expand his minor-league empire in Maryland.

Offering entertainment that is "less expensive than the movies," Kirk submitted architectural drawings on his dream stadium to the Triple A expansion committee this week. It was the final piece of information requested by the committee before it makes a recommendation to Triple A owners in late September on the two-team expansion due in 1993. Ultimate approval belongs to Sal Artiaga, president of the National Association of minor-league teams.

Bowie is one of five finalists in a competition that began with 17 applicants. The others include three cities currently with a Double A team -- Charlotte, N.C., Birmingham, Ala., and Tulsa, Okla. -- and one Canadian city, Ottawa, that plans to build a $21 million stadium.

Charlotte, with a new $15 million facility, is generally regarded as the front-runner.

Kirk runs a real estate business in Columbia and heads the Maryland Baseball Limited Partnership, which owns and operates Orioles' farm teams in Frederick and Hagerstown. Kirk's proposed Triple A stadium is patterned after Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, where the Class A Keys play.

Plans for the Bowie stadium call for 10,000 seats, 6,000 of which would be general admission. There also would be a 150-seat stadium club, 16 sky suites (compared to 12 in Frederick) and grassy areas where young children can romp. As for the concourse midway, Kirk said he wants "fun things" available for the fans. "We might have an old English pub there," he said.

Whether Kirk realizes his dream or not, he figures he has done all he could.

"We've given it our best shot," he said. "The support we've received has been terrific. We've got a month to wait. I think the chances we'll get a team are excellent."

Kirk's big selling point is the market. There are 3 million prospective fans within a 30-minute drive, he says. "In market size and demographics, we're better than anyone else," he said. "We're equal to everyone in ownership and management. And we fit better in the International League than anyone else."

The down side for Bowie is that there is no existing stadium. And unlike the cities with Double A clubs, there is no track record at the site, although Kirk has drawn raves for his operations in Frederick and Hagerstown.

It is uncertain whether the two new teams would go into the International League or the American Association. The International League owners recently voted to break their three-year working agreement with the American Association. The vote ends inter-league play in the Triple A Alliance and raised questions about the league's willingness to make progressive change. It is to Kirk's advantage if the two expansion teams are placed in the International League.

Randy Mobley, president of the Triple A Alliance and member of the Triple A expansion committee, said the lack of a proven Double A franchise does not necessarily relegate Bowie to also-ran.

"It's not a prerequisite," Mobley said. "We tried to charter the positives and negatives of each city. It's not who has the most negatives, it's who has the most positives."

Charlotte, Birmingham and Tulsa all had to reach agreements to leave their respective leagues. The Tulsa Drillers will have to pay no indemnification fee to the Texas League if current owner Went Hubbard retains ownership of the Double A franchise for two more years and moves it to a location acceptable to the league. The Charlotte Knights and Birmingham Barons, however, will be required to pay $1.1 million each to leave the Southern League if they are granted Triple A teams.

The Knights and Barons rank one-two in Southern League attendance, averaging more than 4,000 fans a game. The Drillers are averaging 4,300 per game. Ottawa, meanwhile, has 6,000 pledges for season tickets should baseball return there.

The Triple A expansion is in the wake of the National League's two-team expansion in 1993, when it takes in Denver and Miami. Denver's Triple A team will be relocated and perhaps sold, which leaves Kirk with one more option if he doesn't get the expansion team.

"We will pursue buying an existing team in that case," he said.

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