Wichita Bids Adieu to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
The banging and clanging of metal tools striking against steel seats echoed throughout Lawrence-Dumont Stadium; the ping and pangs were loud enough to even disrupt the ghost of Ray“Hap” Dumont, who convinced the City of Wichita to build the stadium to host his semi-amateur baseball in 1935. Many still claim that his presence can be felt since his death at his office in the building 46-years-ago.
On this day, fans were allowed to grab a piece of history or a slice of childhood memories with chair sale. The cash-only event allowed fans of Wichita baseball to purchase seats for as low as $5 for the red seats, $20 for the red/tan seats, and $35 for the blue seats. Fans were encouraged to dig into their toolboxes to be able to remove a seat, or even a row of four, from its foundation on the main concourse.
A total of 250 seats were sold on Saturday according to Troy Houtman, Director of Parks and Recreation. The rest will be given donated to local universities, community colleges, and high schools in the area. A few of the seats will be on display at various bus stops, art galleries, and trendy neighborhoods in town.
After the stadium purge of seats, the “Farewell to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium” began featuring a collection of food trucks, a celebrity softball game, movie screenings, and a firework show. It was a proper send off to a facility that has been the catalyst of copious amounts of memories. Within a few weeks, it will be razed to make way for a new Triple-A ballpark that hopes to create a new tradition of its own beginning in the 2020 season
“Generations have come and gone with Lawrence-Dumont Stadium,” said Kevin Jenks, NBC General Manager/Tournament Director. “Members of the Lawrence and Dumont families attended and it’s hard for them. The NBC has a great relationship with both families. Charley Lawrence and Hap Dumont are responsible for the stadium being built in 1934. Its impact isn’t felt just by those families, LDS has contributed memories for thousands of fans and players over the years.”
The scoreboard will be donated to a local high school, it’s lighting possibly salvaged if it can’t find a new home, and other parts auctioned off to the highest bidder. All remnants of the stadium’s former tenant the Wichita Wingnuts were auctioned off a few weeks ago. Pretty soon there will be nothing but peanut shells that need to be swept up from the building’s main concourse.
The city will pay as much as $83 million for the redevelopment of the property that will also include a new pedestrian bridge that will cross the river, a three-tier building for retail and office space, and other infrastructure. The construction will begin in April of next year and when finish has a capacity for 10,000 fans with fixed seats and social areas.
The NBC will also utilize the stadium for one week during the summer for its amateur World Series while the yet-t0-be-named Triple-A ballclub, currently operating in New Orleans, is on the road. The new stadium will also be home to an NBC museum and office space. Next season, NBC World Series will be held at Eck Stadium on the campus of Wichita State University during the construction.
“We’re excited to play at Eck Stadium”, added Jenks who said that more teams have inquired about participating next season in the tournament. “Its amenities are great for our fans and our teams will like the pre-game prep/practice area much more. The only challenge is going through the “get ready” process of moving a new facility for the first time in 85 years. The operations staff at WSU has been professional and accommodating to our unique needs of a two-week event.”
The city hopes to attract 888,400 visitors to the baseball facility that can also be used 10 days a year for charitable and community events. A ballpark village with an outfield entrance will be situated along the river with businesses hoping to fill in the south end of the stadium. Mayor Jeff Longwell said at the official announcement that Arkansas River has been vastly overlooked.
“We have literally turned our backs on this river for decades and decades and decades and now we are embracing the river as the great amenity it should be.”
The ballpark would be completed by March 15, 2020, while the team commits to a 20-year lease with an initial rent payment of $350,000 annually, before it is adjusted to inflation every five years.
It is indeed an end of an era in Wichita; the old ballpark was once serviceable as a home to minor league baseball, but wouldn’t be able to hack it anymore under its current conditions. Although full of nostalgia for many who remember their first time watching a game underneath its old grandstand, the city is due for a modern ballpark to satisfy the appetites and empty the pockets who now attend the game as more of a social event.
The over the eight-decade run of LDS is a strong testament to its stubbornness and unwillingness to cede to more modern ballparks, but at the dawn of the next decade, there will be a state of the art ballpark offering perhaps everything architects in the past have overlooked when designing similar facilities.
“It is a bittersweet situation,” added Houtman. The current Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is 84-years-old and it has so many memories to folks here in Wichita, but the infrastructure is so outdated and the mounting costs of repairs and upgrades have made it fiscally impossible to renovate or sustain in its current state. It is my hope that the folks from Wichita will make many new memories and experience at the new stadium.”
That feeling is also shared by Jenks who knows that it was inevitable to build a new stadium for both a minor league team and amateur tournament.
“All that said, a new stadium is desperately needed. It should have happened 10-15 years ago. The next generation of NBC fans will grow up in a beautiful facility. Plus, the NBC museum will showcase our tradition, history, and nostalgia that so many people have helped build.”
In an age were many ballparks are being knocked down after less than 25 years, an 84-year-old ballpark is something to truly appreciate. However, it is time for a new ballpark that hopes to create as many memories as Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. If there was ever a city waiting for such a moment, it is definitely Wichita, Kansas.