To meet MLB standards, Durham approves $10 million in Bulls baseball stadium upgrades

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Durham City Council recently approved additional spending to upgrade Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The total cost of the upgrades is about $10 million, with the city paying most of that. The city owns the stadium and leases it to the Bulls. The Bulls will contribute about $1 million towards upgrades.

Originally, the project’s estimated budget was around $5.2 million in 2020, but construction costs have increased during the pandemic.

Durham has until 2025 to complete upgrades to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to keep it Major League Baseball compliant. It is an MLB requirement for minor league teams to upgrade their facilities. If they don’t, the Bulls could lose their MLB affiliation.

And this threat is not hyperbolic. Since 2019, more than 40 minor league teams have lost their MLB affiliation.

Improvements include women’s locker rooms, a new batting tunnel, multiple batting cages, office reconfigurations and larger clubhouses for both teams. Construction of the various upgrades is expected to begin in August and end in April 2023.

Mayor of Durham Pro-Tempore Mark-Anthony Middleton says the Bulls are going nowhere.

“They have long been part of Durham’s DNA,” Middleton said. “The question is, did they generate direct and residual economic activity in terms of impact on jobs? Over $2 million? That’s a very short discussion.”

According to documents obtained by the news and the observerthe Durham Bulls generated a total economic impact of $48.5 million in 2019.

“The Durham Bulls are here to stay,” Middleton said. “They are not only part of Durham’s historic past and the fabric of Durham, they are a major economic force in our city and indeed our region.”

Professional baseball has been played in Durham on and off since 1902. After a nine-year hiatus, this current iteration of the Durham Bulls began playing games in 1980 as an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves in the Carolina League . In 1988, the Bulls achieved some international fame with the movie “Bull Durham”, a romantic comedy starring Kevin Costner as Bulls wide receiver Crash Davis.

In 1998, the Bulls became affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays and upgraded to the Triple-A level of minor league baseball, which is only one level away from the major leagues. The Bulls are still with the Rays in Triple-A ball today.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park opened in 1995 and hosts around 10,000 fans. It originally cost around $18.5 million to build and last underwent major renovations in 2014.

The park has also hosted games for Duke and the ACC. The Bulls and Charlotte Knights recently made a joint proposal to the ACC to alternate as site hosts for future ACC baseball tournaments. Charlotte hosted the tournament in 2021 and 2022, and a Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority study estimated that fans spent $5.4 million in Charlotte in 2021 on meals, hotels and more.

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