January 23, 2014
By Mary Perez at Sun Herald
BILOXI -- It was a celebration a decade in the making Thursday as the ceremonial groundbreaking for a minor league baseball stadium brought together a crowd of fans and the team that worked for years to make Biloxi baseball a reality.
"I'm feeling great -- finally," Tim Bennett, president of Overtime Sports, said as he headed to the stadium site on U.S. 90, north of the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.
It was Bennett's determination and perseverance that got a stadium built in Pearl near Jackson, said Gov. Phil Bryant, and then snagged another baseball team for Biloxi. Hundreds of others contributed in some way, Bryant said, "and here we are."
Many of those who spoke and many in the crowd brought family members, both young and old, to be part of the festivities.
"I'm so excited. I wouldn't miss this for anything," said Biloxi resident Lois Richardson.
The team already has its first sponsor, M&M Processing, a Biloxi seafood wholesaler, and its first season ticket holders. John Matthews won a drawing for the tickets at the groundbreaking and Grayson Ross won her tickets in the best sign contest.
Hundreds of people signed up for season ticket information on Baseball Biloxi website in just three days, said event announcer F. Cliff Kirkland, and another drawing for season tickets will be held from among the online list.
It will be up to the community to suggest names for the team, a Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, which sent jerseys and T-shirts for the groundbreaking. "They want to be involved," Kirkland said.
"We're looking forward to it being a great addition to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, not only Biloxi," said Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, who hired Bennett to pull together a team, a stadium and the funding.
Bryant contributed $15 million in state funds provided by BP to help finance the stadium, and the Biloxi Council has committed to providing a $21 bond for construction.
Bennett said those who worked with him to build the stadium in Pearl also are involved in Biloxi: architect Doug Dale, Yates Construction, attorney Bob Wood, Ashley Edwards, who worked with governors Barbour and Bryant, and Chris Gouras, who manages the bond sales.
Bennett also tapped his friends, former NBA basketball star Tracy McGrady and former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister, to help with his dream.
McAllister said he was in Biloxi for Thursday's groundbreaking because of his friendship and business endeavors with Bennett.
Biloxi is a great place for minor league baseball, McAllister said, because it gives local families another amusement outlet and will attract a new group of visitors.
Asked if he will return for opening day, McAllister said, "Oh yeah. I'll be here."
The official name is MGM Grand Stadium at Beau Rivage, said George Corchis, chief operating officer of regional operations at MGM Resorts International.
"This is bigger than baseball," he said. "It will be the catalyst for future economic development." He said the stadium with bring investment and activity to downtown Biloxi and be a game-changer for the Mississippi Coast.
First the Biloxi Council must approve the $21 million bond and sign a lease with MGM and the Beau Rivage for the property, possibly at Tuesday's meeting. Councilmen George Lawrence and David Fayard voted against providing the financing for the stadium, but Lawrence was at the groundbreaking and wore a "Biloxi Baseball" jersey.
"I never have voted against baseball," Lawrence said. He was impressed by the size of the crowd that came out for the groundbreaking and said he isn't worried the stadium will be able to draw the necessary 4,000 fans per game the first few years to cover the bond repayment, but said the bond is for 20 years.
Harrison County Supervisor Windy Swetman didn't have any concerns as he described how it will be, watching a game with his family and listening to the announcer.
"I can hear it now: 'Biloxi wins. Biloxi wins,'" he said.
Some in the crowd said South Mississippi already won with the stadium groundbreaking.
"I can't wait for it to get open. I love baseball," said Kemon Welfort of Gulfport. "I hope people support it. That's going to be the key."