A vintage ballpark in Kenosha will get a makeover and a new team with fans expected to travel from northern Lake County, where a short-lived baseball venture remains benched.
Kenosha Baseball, a group that includes owners of two teams in the Northwoods League, on Thursday will unveil plans for an overhaul of the 83-year-old Simmons Field on Sheridan Road during a ceremonial lease-signing with city officials.
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The $1 million renovation will greatly increase the capacity of the park, with new and refurbished grandstands to include seats from Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. New dugouts, a brick wall around the perimeter of the field, and expanded concession areas are among the improvements.
Renovations will begin this spring, with the team scheduled to debut in June 2014. The team to be named through a community contest, will be the eighth Wisconsin franchise in the 16-team Northwoods League, said to be the largest summer collegiate baseball league in the country.
Kenosha is expected to provide a solid fan base but owners expect plenty of interest from other areas.
"We also expect to reach into Lake County and up to Racine as well," explained Conor Caloia, general manager of the Madison Mallards, which he said averages 6,000 fans per game. He also is part of the ownership group that operates the Mallards and the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
"We didn't see there being a lot of competition in the market and that influenced our decision," Caloia said.
The group has committed $250,000 to improvements before a pitch is thrown and $250,000 over the next 11 years. The venture is a partnership with the city, which owns the stadium and will pay a maximum of $750,000 for ballpark improvements.
Kenosha officials last month approved an 11-year lease with Northwoods League Inc., and Baseball Like it Oughta Be LLC, which will pay annual rent starting at $30,000 and rising to $35,821 during the lease term.
The unsettled situation with the Lake County Fielders, an independent professional baseball team that was to have played in a stadium to be built in Zion, influenced what became a 14-month process in Kenosha, Caloia said.
"Our owners currently have two teams and we were looking for the next market that would be a good fit," he said. "We were aware of what happened with the Fielders."
The Fielders, boasting actor Kevin Costner among the owners, debuted in 2010 and also played in 2011 at temporary facilities at Route 173 and Green Bay Road. The city of Zion used $1.3 million in state taxpayers' money for lights, dugouts, a backstop, utilities, and, a modest scoreboard. Former state Sen. Michael Bond was among those who said it would be money well spent, in part, because of visitors coming to the Zion ballpark from southeastern Wisconsin.
But a permanent stadium and related amenities have yet to be built. Issues involving the stadium are part of an ongoing lawsuit between Zion and the Fielders.
The team did not play in 2012, although the organization still exists.
"It's very difficult to know how the team could get on the field until the suits with the city of Zion are resolved," said Steven Boulton, an attorney representing the Fielders. "They're ready to play baseball but they have nowhere to play."
• Daily Herald staff writer Bob Susnjara contributed to this report