TRWD land transactions may have Fort Worth Cats playing ball at LaGrave again

LaGrave Field

The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) board on Tuesday June 17, approved two land transactions designed to bring baseball back to LaGrave Field on Fort Worth’s near north side.

In one of the agreements the board voted to swap 15.3 acres it owns currently under Trinity River levees for 8.1 acres owned by Panther Acquisition Partners Ltd. that includes the 5,200-seat stadium. Panther Acquisition Ltd. also will pay TRWD an additional $1.3 million as part of the deal.

The TRWD board then immediately approved a 40-year market rate lease of the stadium and parking areas to the Save LaGrave Foundation, a local nonprofit. As pre-paid rent, the foundation will make an immediate payment of $4 million – and make an additional $3 million in the next 18 months.

The TRWD board unanimously approved both transactions.

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“Throughout these discussions our top priority was to make sure this deal would benefit the water district, as well as the tax paying public,” said Marty Leonard, TRWD Board Vice President. “The board and staff did their due diligence throughout this process and made sure this was the right deal from our standpoint.”

The Save LaGrave Foundation also agreed over the next three years to spend at least $2 million in capital improvements on the baseball stadium. Save LaGrave will pay all costs associated with the stadium, including maintaining same in a first class condition, insurance, utilities and taxes.

In the land swap with Panther Acquisitions Ltd., the company agreed to meet milestones for development of the property once the levees are decommissioned and development is permitted within the floodway as part of the Panther Island development.

On the lease with the Save LaGrave Foundation, the organization is required to secure a minor league baseball team that will play at least 45 regular season games in a league similar to the one in which the Fort Worth Cats previously played. In addition, the Save LaGrave Foundation will conduct at least 75 qualifying events at the stadium for other purposes, such as professional or amateur sporting events, civic and promotional activities to maximize the facility’s usage.

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The Cats history in Fort Worth goes back to 1888, when they were founded as the Fort Worth Panthers, nicknamed the Cats to fit into newspaper headlines. The team was so good that Major League Baseball teams played exhibition games at LaGrave, bringing legends such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig to Fort Worth. Texas League player Paul LaGrave became the team’s business manager during its 1920s heyday, and when he died in 1929 the team’s owner named the stadium in his honor.

After World War II, the team became a minor league farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who sent former Dodger Bobby Bragan to manage the Cats and bring home more championship wins.

The Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles in 1957 resulted in shakeups for the Cats, which was traded to the Chicago Cubs. The Cats, which had been part of the Texas League, joined the American Association but landed back in the Texas League for the final season.

Businessman Carl Bell built the new LaGrave Field on the site of the original stadium and the revived Cats played their first game in the new stadium on May 23, 2002.

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Besides the stadium, Bell had an ambitious plan to build a 1.5 million-square-foot, mixed-use development with condos and townhouses surrounding the ballpark, but the 2008 recession put those plans out of play, forcing Bell to sell the property. – This report includes information from the FWBP archives.