Hamilton's Nate Mastervick looks back to watch his bunt fall into the hands of Panthers catcher Frank Camillo Morejon during their 2016 quarter final playoffs at Jack Couch Park in Kitchener. Ian Stewart/Special to the Record
Greg Mercer, Record staff
KITCHENER - Plans for a new multi-use outdoor sports stadium in Waterloo Region appear to be gaining traction thanks to momentum behind the local Canada Summer Games bid.
The stadium project is being led by the Kitchener Panthers, the Intercounty Baseball League team that has played baseball here since 1919 - and has long hoped to mark its centennial with a new 1,500-seat facility.
If the region can win the bid for the 2021 Games, it could mean millions in provincial and federal funding for local sports infrastructure.
With all three local cities now putting their support behind the Canada Games bid, the Panthers hope they can finally get the boost they need to make the stadium project a reality.
"We're inching closer and closer, " said Bill Pegg, president of the non-profit Panthers baseball club. "A lot of marbles still have to fall down the chute, but we're satisfied with where this is going."
The Panthers have narrowed their focus to three potential sites, including land north of Highway 401 along Homer Watson Boulevard owned by Conestoga College.
The team would spearhead the fundraising efforts, he said, and be a major tenant in a multi-use, artificial turf stadium that could be used for baseball, lacrosse, field hockey and other sports, plus concerts.
Pegg believes a new baseball stadium could be built for between $4 million and $5 million, and says he already has local companies willing to donate in-kind services to the project. If the five-acre site needs sewer, water and hydro lines put in, that would drive up the cost.
"Whatever we work out, with whichever partner, there will be a fundraising component. We're going to have to bring money to the table, and we're preparing plans on how we would do that, " he said.
Conestoga's president, John Tibbits, said in June his college supports the idea and would like to have a facility for a men's baseball team. Conestoga also owns land south of Highway 401 that's being considered for a City of Cambridge recreation multiplex - but that project would not impact any potential stadium project on the north side of the highway, Pegg said.
The Panthers have also talked to officials at both Kitchener and Waterloo city halls, and say they're exploring all options - including partnering with Waterloo's two universities, which also have baseball teams.
"We've been turning over every rock we can turn over all around Kitchener-Waterloo regarding a possible site, " Pegg said. "We want to make sure we're doing our due diligence."
The Panthers, who currently play at 47-year-old Jack Couch Park, believe they can drum up the community support necessary if the stadium project gets the green light. The team boasts its best balance sheet in almost two decades, thanks to a 25 per cent jump in attendance and more than 30 per cent increase in sponsorship revenue last season.
Part of 2016's spike in attendance can be chalked up to the signing of three Cuban players, part of historic deal with the island's baseball federation, Pegg said. The Panthers are in talks to sign four more Cubans for the upcoming season, he said.
The goal is still to build a new stadium in time for the team's centennial, Pegg said.
That would mean construction would have to start in 2018 at the latest.
If that happens, it would make the Panthers' stadium project one of the leading sites to host the country's amateur athletes in 2021.
"If we had a new park ready for 2019 or 2020, obviously it would be the preferred site for the Canada Games, " Pegg said.
"If we're building a new park, and a chunk of money from the feds and the province could be secured toward that, it sure wouldn't hurt."