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Fort Worth’s LaGrave Field to be demolished, but leaders still open to sports on Panther Island

Resident Otila Boddy speaks to the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors during a board meeting held on June 18, 2024.
Camilo Diaz
/
Fort Worth Report
Resident Otila Boddy speaks to the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors during a board meeting held on June 18, 2024.

In line with recommendations from Panther Island planners, the Tarrant Regional Water District will demolish LaGrave Field, the historic minor league baseball stadium that has deteriorated since its closure a decade ago. Water district staff plan to salvage memorabilia — including the historic dugouts from the original stadium — and potentially auction it later.

C.B. Team, one of five board members who unanimously approved the demolition of LaGrave, said he was hopeful that a buyer could be found to invest in and bring the stadium back to its full potential. Water district staff took numerous calls and meetings with community members about the possibilities, he said.

“It’s tough when nothing has ever materialized,” Team said. “I feel like it’s been 10 years and there’s been a lot of opportunity to do that.”

Team and other board members cited ongoing safety concerns at LaGrave, which the water district spends $200,000 annually to secure. Mick Maguire, the water district’s chief administrative officer, showed drone footage depicting graffiti-covered walls and stolen equipment, including copper wiring from lighting structures.

“It’s clear that people are still trying to get in, and I consider that a safety hazard,” Team said. “It’s only a matter of time when someone hurts themselves on that site that’s just deteriorating right in front of us.”

Sharon Gabert was among several Tarrant County residents who urged board members to protect Fort Worth history and search for investors interested in reviving the stadium. Gabert, 77, grew up in Northside and attended Cats games with her family. LaGrave’s history needs to be incorporated into Panther Island in some fashion, she said.

“This part of history should not be lost,” Gabert said before the June 18 vote. “We have to, in some way, incorporate this part of history, just like San Antonio incorporates their history in their city so that wherever you walk, you’re coming onto a plaza or statue or something like the history that’s important to San Antonio. And baseball is important to the history of Fort Worth.”

Vote doesn’t ‘close the door’ on future of sports on Panther Island

The vote comes three months after a consulting firm delivered recommendations on economic development for what will become Panther Island. Upon its expected completion in 2032, the $1.16 billion Central City flood control project will build a 1.5-mile bypass channel to reroute part of the Trinity River. The new channel will create hundreds of acres in riverwalk development connecting downtown to the Stockyards and Northside neighborhood.

HR&A Advisors — the consultant tapped by the city of Fort Worth, water district and other partners to develop a new strategy for the island — recommended the demolition and sale of LaGrave Field. The consultant cited “skepticism” about the ability to attract a financially sustainable professional sports team that could keep LaGrave in use year-round.

The HR&A report recommended a “prompt resolution” to the LaGrave issue, pointing to a group of nearby landowners interested in seeing the site used for development, public space or destination entertainment.

Board member Paxton Motheral said the vote was solely on the future of the physical structure, not the future of sports on Panther Island.

“This would not close the door on the opportunity for sports here,” Motheral said.

At their May meeting, water district board members instructed staff to search for a consultant to help the agency figure out its long-term strategy for LaGrave’s future. Any discussions with individual property owners or developers would be delayed until after the water district and its consultant create that framework, board member James Hill said at the time.

The original 12,000-seat field opened in 1926 off North Main Street, where it hosted decades of minor league baseball games as the home of the Fort Worth Cats. Jackie Robinson and Joe DiMaggio were among the legendary professionals who played exhibition games at LaGrave. After fire and floods damaged the stadium, it was reconstructed in 1950 before the Cats shut down and the field was demolished in 1967.

Businessman Carl Bell brought the Cats back in 2001 and reconstructed LaGrave, which served as the franchise’s home from 2002 until the Cats’ lease was terminated in November 2014. The field fell into disrepair, with the water district taking ownership in 2019.

A third-party investor originally agreed to restore the stadium and revive the Cats. But the deal fell through in 2020 after the investor failed to meet certain requirements, including hiring security to prevent further vandalism at LaGrave.

Resident Ben Rushing, who appealed to board members to find a baseball investor, said there’s still the possibility of building a cheaper ballpark on or near the site. The water district’s decision to get rid of the “eyesore” and security costs made sense to him.

“Looking at that drone video, it’s pretty obvious there’s a lot more work than I imagined needing to go into it to get to a minimal standard where you have seats people could sit in and not fall through, a restroom that works,” Rushing said after the vote. “The worst thing they could do is say no. So when they said no, it’s no big deal.”

Rushing sees an opportunity for investors to create a profitable minor league team in North Texas. Whether it happens in Fort Worth or elsewhere, he said, is still up in the air.

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org.