Officials Look for New Uses for Bears Stadium

By Michael Hill

It’s a stadium without a tenant. But for a time, it was a field of fun, watching the minor league Newark Bears play here.

When asked how often he would visit the stadium, Kenny Hargrove said, “Say once, twice a week.”

Apparently the Bears needed more Kenny Hargroves to make it to the box office to fill the stadium game after game. The team says attendance, or lack of attendance,is a reason to its financial troubles and the city of Newark and the county of Essex holding the financial bag for a “barely” used stadium.

“I don’t want you to be left with the impression that merely because we don’t have a baseball tenant today that the stadium is going to be totally unused,” said James Paganelli of the Essex County Improvement Authority.

Paganelli looks beyond the empty bleachers to a bright future for this stadium built just for baseball.

“We have to expand our calendar beyond baseball, whether that means some winter events there. There’s been some talk about an ice rink there in the winter. Maybe have some local hockey classics. Maybe have some local high schools come down and play. We’re not going to give up on the stadium,” said Paganelli.

Hargrove says he’s got an idea for the stadium.

“I got some guys that wanted to play some hard ball — Triple A ball, Double A, 40 and over league,” he said.

No one can bemoan the riverfront stadium’s location and access to public transportation. Paganelli says the 1999 built stadium spurred growth in this central ward neighborhood.

But in the April the Bears auctioned it’s assets and the stadium’s costing Newark and Essex County a million dollars a year each.

“A lot of people are heartbroken. I wasn’t even a baseball fan but I would love to go there and get a hot dog and have something to drink and have the wind blow off the Passaic River. Now what we have to do, as a city and it’s going to be a challenge for the incoming mayor and the new council, is to find out how we’re going to be able to leverage that, sell it, invite people to look at it for alternate use. As you may know we are faced with numbers that people use a $93 million budget gap, every single payment that we can get. Every asset we have, we have has to be put to its most productive use,” said Newark City Councilman Darrin Sharif.

“We have to diversify our use there,” said Paganelli.

Paganelli of the County Improvement Authority says to look for an announcement of an inked deal right after July 1 for Bears Stadium.