The wrecking ball is finally swinging in Scranton.
Two months after the demolition of PNC Field was originally scheduled to begin, and a month after an April 1 deadline set by the International League came and went, the Yankees' $43.3 million renovation of PNC Field will officially kick off during a ceremonial groundbreaking scheduled for today. The event comes four days after an agreement was reached in the frequently delayed $14.6 million sale of the franchise by Lackawanna County (Pa.) Multipurpose Stadium Authority to SWB Yankees LLC—the entity made up of the New York Yankees and Mandalay Baseball Properties that has been operating the team since 2007.
The deal has been lauded by local officials as a significant upgrade on the original agreement reached five years ago when Mandalay took over operations of the team. And while there still seems to be plenty of hand-wringing in Scranton about new ownership pulling the team out of town someday, the new agreement puts more financial responsibility on the Yankees and Mandalay. Proceeds of the sale are being put toward the ballpark renovation—which is why construction could not begin until an agreement was reached. SWB Yankees LLC agreed to a 30-year lease at $900,000 annually—up $150,000 from the original agreement in order to pay for design changes—and will contribute to ballpark maintenance and improvements.
"We are proud of our growing partnership with the New York Yankees and committed to creating a great experience for our team’s fans in northeastern Pennsylvania,” Mandalay Baseball chairman Peter Guber said in a release. “We believe that this venue will be among the finest field of dreams in professional minor league baseball and an important jewel in Mandalay’s professional sports assets and experiences.”
There is reason to believe Guber. The area embraced the Yankees when they came to town in 2007. Scranton ranked fourth in the International League in average attendance (8,802) in its first year as a Yankees affiliate, a 41 percent increase from the previous season. The team held strong in 2008 with a 7,147 average, good for eighth in the IL, but attendance nosedived the following three seasons, as fans were turned off by rising ticket prices, a perceived corporate management style by Mandalay and a series of structural problems at PNC Field. In 2011, the team finished second-to-last in the 14-team IL with a 4,586 average.
The Yankees have plenty of work to do over the next 11 months beyond having the new ballpark ready for Opening Day 2013. They will need to reunite with the community after the team's season-long road trip this season. Part of that process will be hiring a new face of the franchise to replace Kristen Rose, who stepped down as president last week.
“This is truly a great day for Lackawanna County because baseball is back,” county commissioner Patrick O’Malley said in the release. “The negotiations were long and thought out, but they were vital for the proper evaluation of this project.”