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Lackawanna County baseball stadium in Moosic will see major renovations this fall

Lackawanna County Commissioner Bill Gaughan addresses a news conference called to announce $13.5 million in renovations to PNC Field where the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders play baseball. Plans include locker rooms for female umpires and trainers.
Aimee Dilger
Lackawanna County Commissioner Bill Gaughan addresses a news conference called to announce $13.5 million in renovations to PNC Field where the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders play baseball. Plans include locker rooms for female umpires and trainers.

On an early visit to PNC Field more than a decade ago, Tony Bruno learned an upsetting truth.

Umpires of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders games and team staff who are women change clothes to do their jobs in a room where Champ also changes.

Champ is the team’s mascot.

“And I don't have daughters,” said Bruno, the senior vice president and chief financial for Yankee Global Enterprises, the company that owns the New York Yankees. “But I instantly realized how I would feel if I was so proud of my daughter for being a pioneer in this sport, and then to be relegated to have to change and get ready for a game with a mascot. And I knew then that we really had a lot to do.”

More than a decade later, the RailRiders home field will undergo $13.5 million in renovations after this baseball season to deal with the rise of women in baseball and Major League Baseball’s higher standards for minor league stadiums.

“Failure to comply with these major league standards could have dire consequences, including the loss of a Triple-A franchise which would jeopardize the substantial public investment already made in PNC Field,” County Commissioner Matt McGloin said.

County officials announced the project during a news conference Tuesday near home plate at the Moosic stadium. The renovations should start after the RailRiders’ home season ends Sept. 15 and are supposed to be done by next Opening Day.

The county stadium authority’s contract with the company that owns the RailRiders required the authority to contribute $3 million to stadium renovations in late 2022. The county paid that. The contract also requires another $12 million contribution by the end of the 2027 season.

McGloin said the renovations will mean the county meets that requirement early.

The $13.5 million is scheduled to come from two sources. The county stadium authority will issue $8.5 million in tax-free municipal bonds with $1.5 million of that going into a debt payment reserve fund and the other $7 million toward the renovations.

The county hopes the state pays the rest. In January, the authority applied to the state for a $6.5 million redevelopment assistance capital grant, authority solicitor Frank Tunis Jr. said. Tunis said he and other authority officials have lobbied local state legislators and Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration officials for the money.

The authority will pay back the bonds over 20 years starting in 2025. Though county officials at the news conference said the debt payments will be $1.2 million a year, a document the county provided shows a maximum annual payment of $1,532,820 in 2025, gradually declining to a low of $1,148,371 in 2044, the bonds’ final year.

The county will pay off the bonds by committing about 60% of annual hotel occupancy tax collections and the RailRiders’ stadium rent. No county property taxes will go toward the payments, County Commissioner Bill Gaughan said.

“We want to emphasize that no money from the Lackawanna County government's general fund will be used to execute this project,” he said.

That’s important because the county entered 2024 with $19 million in unpaid bills. The commissioners hired PFM Group Consulting in April to develop a five-year strategic financial plan to deal with the debt.

Aside from assuring the RailRiders continue to play at PNC Field, the renovations will mostly benefit players, coaches and other staff behind the scenes.

After Major League Baseball took over the game’s minor leagues in 2020, its leaders developed better standards for local stadiums and demanded teams meet them.

The RailRiders represent the Yankees minor league affiliate with players closest to reaching the major leagues, but Bruno said PNC Field scored lowest among Yankee minor league teams in meeting the new standards.

The standards require separate locker rooms for female umpires, trainers and other staff.

McGloin said women weren’t as involved in baseball more than 30 years ago when the stadium was built or even a decade ago when it was rebuilt.

“Now, women are heavily engaged in the game and the business. There are many female umpires, trainers and even coaches and women executives and staff regularly come to accompany the teams that visit PNC Field,” he said.

Beyond addressing more women in baseball, Bruno said the stadium needs better facilities for players, coaches and other staff. The upgrade will also include more modern player locker rooms and coaching offices, new dining rooms, new batting cages and better video technology to improve player development.

During a behind the scenes tour after the news conference, Bruno pointed to a player dining room and kitchenette that seats only eight while the team has 25 players, not to mention coaches and other staff.

All the modernization amounts to a requirement for gaining more room. The renovations will require a 5,000-square-foot addition to the stadium’s left field structure and a new building, separate from the stadium’s rightfield corner, for visiting team batting cages.

“It was important that we bring it up to standards, so that we're comfortable to send our players that are right on the verge of making it to the major leagues,” Bruno said. “So, it was very clear that this work had to be done. The numbers on the scoring were indicative of how far behind the facility was.”

Bruno credited Tunis and the stadium authority for acknowledging the stadium’s shortcomings and contributing to “a terrific collaboration to make this work.”

As if to emphasize the need for upgrades, the Yankees promoted top prospect Jasson Dominguez, an outfielder, to the RailRiders on Tuesday to continue his rehabilitation from an injury.

“I think I've heard it mentioned a few times how the game has changed. And we're putting our most valuable assets here. So that to have them condition properly, to have them in an environment to get them ready to play is of utmost importance,” Bruno said.

Borys joins WVIA News from The Scranton Times-Tribune, where he served as an investigative reporter and covered a wide range of political stories. His work has been recognized with numerous national and state journalism awards from the Inland Press Association, Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association.

You can email Borys at boryskrawczeniuk@wvia.org