USA Cricket have announced a deal with the City of Grand Prairie to convert an award-winning former minor league baseball stadium into a new home and training centre for USA national teams.
The 15 year ground lease and economic development agreement between MLC Dallas Stadium Co LLC (American Cricket Enterprises) and the City of Grand Prairie was approved by the city council on Tuesday night. The deal represents not only a commitment to the area by USA Cricket, but it identifies the Grand Prairie stadium as the first official Major League Cricket venue and second official ODI venue in the country. Regionally, Grand Prairie will become the third turf facility in the state of Texas, after Moosa Stadium and Prairie View in Houston.
Originally named QuikTrip Park, the former Airhogs home was built for around $20 million and opened in 2008. The aviation themed stadium features 13 luxury suites on the upper level, a current capacity of 5,400, and a tall roof over the seating area, designed to provide shade for fans during sweltering Texas summers. Ballpark Digest named the venue one of two ‘best new ballparks’ in 2008, beating out MLB’s Washington Nationals new facility for the honour. In spite of the quality of the stadium, Airhogs game attendance slipped dramatically since averaging 3,065 per game in its inaugural season, until the team dropped out of the league this October.
Renovations will be made throughout 2021 to transform the ballpark and surrounding land to a cricket-specific facility, featuring an 8,000 – 10,000 capacity international quality stadium, practice nets, training facility, and two additional cricket grounds on the property.
“We’re thrilled by the most immediate impact, of course, which is going to be the construction to renovate the stadium and make it more like it needs to be to accommodate cricket,” Grand Prairie Economic Development Director Marty Wieder said during the announcement today. “We’ve worked very closely with (ACE Director of Corporate Development) Will Swann, and with (architectural firm) HKS and anticipate it’s going to be at least ten, if not more, million to renovate the facility. There’ll be new jobs that will be created onsite in this coming year, and as you imagine we’re pretty excited about that.” HKS has an impressive resume in the industry, boasting involvement in famous large venues such as AT&T Stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium, and American Airlines Center.
USA Cricket Chairman Paraag Marathe expressed hopes that the renovated stadium can help lure large international cricket events to US soil. “We are looking to be hosting world cups, T20 world cups, both men’s and women’s, and that will be something hopefully sometime in the near to mid term (about which) we’re able to share some good news.”
The venue’s location is cited as one motive for the commitment. Grand Prairie, located directly between Dallas and Fort Worth, is a quick 12 miles south of the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and boasts flight times of a maximum five hours to anywhere in the continental United States.
Depending on the cascading effects of Major League Baseball downsizing their affiliated Minor League Baseball teams starting this year, more baseball venues around the country could go vacant. Availability aside, many boxes need to be checked to find a match as good as Grand Prairie. ACE co-founder Sameer Mehta, answering a related question, explained “it needs a willing city, it needs gracious city officials. (Grand Prairie) Mayor Jensen has been instrumental in driving this project. It needs a lot of things to come together to make this happen. It needs to have the right demographics around it. There are certain facilities in the US that are situated in the right demographic areas that we are speaking to…We do plan to build five more venues. In some cases we’ll start from the dirt, and in some cases we will likely move into an existing facility and then refurbish it like we are planning to do for Grand Prairie.”
The planned hub will also be utilized for Minor League Cricket, with the Irving Mustangs a likely tenant, at least for big games. The first place Mustangs games were relatively popular on the MiLC YouTube channel, with only Morrisville Cardinals games collecting more views during the 2020 exhibition season. The inaugural mini-season featured 41% of its games played on turf, and the Grand Prairie venue helps bring MiLC closer to its eventual “all turf” mandate.
When asked about the timeline for all-turf wickets in the Minor League, Mehta replied “Each (MiLC) team has an obligation to build a turf wicket. The obligation is not just the team’s, the obligation is the team and us, centrally, as Major League Cricket, and in some cases academies that we’ve set up in those locations. The absolute intent is that each of the 24 teams in the Minor League will have their own turf ground in the next two to three years. It’s a contractual requirement, it’s a requirement that is partly funded by us, partly by the minor league owners. There is an intense amount of effort that has gone into identifying turf wickets all over the US where this could happen…There’s already been about six wickets that have been built over the last 18 months, there will be plenty more in the next two to three years.”
In September of 2018, USA Cricket played six home games at Church Street Park in Morrisville, North Carolina as part of the T20 World Cup Qualifiers. During the tournament, USA faced off against Canada twice in front of crowds of over 2,000 fans. The USA Men’s and Women’s teams have collectively played eleven games since, all at Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida in front of few fans. With the new USA Cricket hub now set for Grand Prairie, it is reasonable to wonder if USA cricket will ensure that these communities, and others like it, are included in future national team plans, and if so, how?
“We want to see all of that infrastructure, development and so on take place, not just in one central point, all though of course we are really enthralled by the opportunity to make Grand Prairie a hub for all of our activity, but we’d like to see that infrastructure and development across the country,” answered USA Cricket CEO Iain Higgins. “And of course we want to engage with cricket fans that play and support the game all over the country, and we will be taking international cricket matches, and we will be having Major League Cricket matches, and we will be having Minor League Cricket matches and other domestic tournaments and structures all over the USA so that everybody will have an opportunity to go down and watch and see their heroes and role models and engage with the sport right across the country. But today we’re just excited about Grand Prairie… making it the hub of all of the activity moving forward.”
American Cricket Enterprises targets spring of 2022 for the grand opening of the new facility, just in time for the inaugural Major League Cricket season.
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