By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Lansing’s Oldsmobile Stadium has been an unqualified success, that city’s officials said yesterday, and could serve as a model for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s efforts to move the Toledo Mud Hens to a downtown ball park.
“It has drawn thousands and thousands of people downtown,” said Mayor David Hollister, who with other Lansing officials met with Toledo officials about the stadium, how to keep automotive plants from moving, and other shared interests.
The Lansing stadium, finished in 1996 at a cost of $20 million, has drawn suburbanites back to downtown and created a public space for all the city’s residents, he said.
“They’ve had a terrific success there,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.
In 1994, Lansing was in a rush to get a stadium built because the owner of a minor-league team in Springfield, Ill., had agreed in October of that year to move the team to Michigan. Officials chose a downtown site to try to spur devel opment. The city broke ground in April, 1995, and the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts began play in 1996.
In their first weekend in Lansing, the Lugnuts drew more fans than their entire previous season in Springfield, Mr. Hollister said. The Lugnuts, cheered on in the stands by the lovable Big Lug, have drawn up to 13,000 fans to some games, he said.
But despite the Lugnuts’ success, Mr. Hollister said the key to the stadium’s success was making the facility open for purposes other than baseball. Lansing hosts rock concerts, ethnic festivals, July 4 celebrations, and ice skating there.
In the summer, the city shows outdoor movies every Friday night.
He said the best way to sell the idea of a downtown stadium to a skeptical public was emphasizing the nonbaseball uses of the field.
“The key is providing low-cost, family-oriented entertainment,” Mr. Hollister said.
Even minor-league games take on an almost vaudevillian air of entertainment, with between-inning stunts and games, he said.
“It’s the goofiest damn thing you’ve ever seen,” Mr. Hollister said, describing a game. “It’s not baseball. It’s just goofy, fun stuff.”
Mr. Finkbeiner has said he wants to build a stadium in the Warehouse District downtown to revitalize the area. It would replace Maumee’s Ned Skeldon Stadium, which some have criticized as outmoded and unappealing to fans. He said he will likely have the issue put on the ballot between now and the November elections.
But the mayor said he would consider building a downtown stadium in Toledo without a vote if he could find the right financing. Oldsmobile Stadium’s costs were financed mostly by a loan from a consortium of six Lansing banks. Without the need for a bond issue, city officials did not need a vote on whether to build the stadium.
Mr. Finkbeiner said he hopes to be able to throw out the first ball in the new park in April, 2000.