Stadium construction, games generate strong economic activity

Hops General Manager K.L. Wombacher is still overwhelmed by the support his team has received in Hillsboro.

Led by Mayor Jerry Willey, the city has built a new state-of-the-art stadium for the Single-A team, the first home game sold out well in advance, and the players will be honored in the upcoming Fourth of July parade.

"Unbelievable," Wombacher said when looking out at the bright green playing field at Hillsboro Ballpark shortly before the first game.

But Willey did not push so hard for getting the team to move to Hillsboro out of the goodness of his heart. He expects the team's presence to pay economic dividends for the city.

Construction of the $15.5 million stadium was just the first step. Funded primarily by city-backed bonds, it created hundreds of construction jobs just as the region was beginning to recover from the Great Recession.

A report presented to the Hillsboro City Council before it approved the stadium predicted the team could generate $7.1 million in economic activity in 2013 alone.

Wombacher said team owners will not release the details of their financial operations. However, he said simply having the team in town is a plus.

Wombacher is among the permanent employees who have moved to the community with their families, renting or buying homes in the area. The 25 Hops' players also live in the area during the season.

"Young guys don't hang on to their money," Wombacher said.

Hops catcher Grant Nelson said he expects to spend some of his salary getting familiar with Hillsboro and "having some adventures" in the area. Although Nelson said most of the team's players will stay with host families, he expected a few to rent apartments.

Visiting teams also will contribute financially to the region, said team President Mike McMurrary. Players, support staff, family members, friends and visiting reporters will rent hundreds of motel and hotel rooms a day, and they will all eat out before and after the games.

One business likely to benefit is the Front Row Bar & Grill, a sports bar within walking distance of the new stadium at 22277 Imbrie Drive. Front Row manager Matt Gary said many customers have been looking forward to the start of the season, and he expects business to pick up before and after each game.

"The general consensus is, we're going to do pretty good business during the season," Gary said.

Although there are only 38 home games in the season, Hillsboro Parks & Recreation spokeswoman Mary Loftin said her agency, which manages the stadium, already has received numerous inquiries from other sports leagues interested in renting it. One is a cricket league that includes a number of Intel employees.

"There's already a good chance it will be used most of the year," Loftin said.

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