Katie Tabeling // Delaware Business Times
WILMINGTON — Amid the Riverfront’s great push for revitalization,Wilmington Blue Rocks owner Dave Heller has plans to fit that vision at Frawley Stadium.
Heller outlined his vision for a “park within a park” at the Wilmington baseball stadium during his keynote speech at the Nov. 3 Superstars in Business Award Luncheon. Among his ideas is bringing amusement rides to one side of the outfield.
“I tell my staff we’re not in the entertainment business, we’re in the memory-making business,” Heller told a crowd of Delaware business leaders at the Hotel du Pont. “If we can make a memory for a Wilmington kid, we’ve accomplished something.”
Heller, the president and CEO of Main Street Baseball, has a proven track recorder of injecting life in Minor League baseball clubs. After buying the Quad Cities River Bandits in 2007, he brought in a new outfield bar, picnic area, playground, portable food carts and a 360-degree concourse that lets fans walk from one end of the field to another.
He also brought in a 105-foot-tall Ferris wheel to the Iowa baseball complex, a first in Minor League Baseball history. And he wants to bring a similar one to Frawley Stadium.
“That Ferris wheel cost over a million dollars to put in and it makes memories every single day,” he said. “It’s an integral part of the city skyline, and you can’t see a picture without it in it. I can tell you without exaggeration, the line is full with people from ages 6 months to 100 and they all have one thing in common:
an awesome memory.”
Other amusements like a double-decker merry-go-round, tower rides, a rock climbing wall, video game stations, and small roller coasters have become crowd pleasers at the stadium in Davenport, Iowa. The double-decker merry-go-round is the only one between Chicago and Kansas City. Overall, the investments cost more than $2 million.
“I listen to my colleagues complain that kids have attention spans of hamsters. We can complain, or we can meet them where they’re at,” Heller said. “I think it would be so cool to have our kids see the world, the [Christina] River from the top of a Yoyo ride. Kids can get a little tired of a game after three or four hours, and they can go ride the rides. This would be transformative for our Riverfront.”
In addition to the amusement rides, Heller and his partners also hope to build a series of apartment buildings overlooking the outfield of Frawley Stadium. He and fellow Blue Rocks owner Clark Minker talked about a concept after seeing the success of the Outfield Ballpark Lofts that overlook the Cooley Law School Stadium in Michigan.
“The owner of the Lansing Lugnuts and I are good friends and we were talking about what to do near the outfields,” he said. “Imagine watching the ball game from your balcony. If all the young people want to live on the Riverfront, what a neat way to live.”
The final step in this would be building a 360-degree concourse so fans could walk from one end of the field to the next.
Heller’s proposal comes at a time when the Riverfront Development Corp.(RDC) is launching a $100 million mixed-use Riverfront East plan that covers 86 acres of the South Market Street corridor that borders the Southbridge community. Overall, that plan includes 1.9 million square feet of office space, over 4,000 residential units, 350,000 square feet of retail space, almost 9,000 structured parking spaces and 650 on-street parking spaces.
Twenty-five years ago, the Frawley Stadium first lit the fire for large-scale development in downtown Wilmington and eventually paved the way for more tourist attractions and residences down the line.
For years, RDC Executive Director Megan McGlinchey has heard of the hopes to bring something different to the Frawley Stadium, but noted that nothing is formally proposed for support yet.
“Any project led by a developer, we’re interested in and supportive of the idea. Some of these ideas were explored a few years ago but they are not active or funded at this time,” McGlinchey said. “It’s a great idea that’s been kicked around, but ultimately, it needs to be heard by the Delaware Stadium Corporation to support it as well.”
For his part, Heller encouraged all at the Superstars in Business luncheon to come to support the Blue Rocks next season as Frawley Stadium has been closed for Minor League Baseball games in 2020 and held a late 2021 season. Closing in on its 30th anniversary, Heller hoped the stands would be packed and he could fulfill his dream on the Wilmington riverfront, paying for all amusement rides but the Ferris wheel.
“I would ask everyone to come out, so we can pack the place. There will be so much energy at the ballpark, and we will have come out of COVID and survived it and become stronger,” he said. “We have the opportunity to really transform the riverfront and Frawley Stadium.