By STEVE KRAH
It was on this date 10 years ago that Andrew T. Berlin purchased the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs from former Governor of Indiana and U.S. Navy veteran Joe Kernan.
Wanting to make the occasion memorable, the transaction came on Veterans Day 2011 – 11-11-11 — at 11:11 a.m.
In the last decade, Berlin and the Minor League Baseball franchise affiliated with the Chicago Cubs have helped make many memories for visitors to Four Winds Field.
“When I think about the last 10 years so much has happened – not just when it comes to baseball or even South Bend but the world at large,” said Berlin to a media gathering at the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Life-changing events have affected all of us as we go through the years.
“It all puts everything into perspective. What’s marvelous about baseball is that it provides a foundation for the gathering of friends and family and loved ones. And I take that job very seriously. It’s not just baseball. It’s about the community. It’s about the people. It’s about having fun and celebrating life. And if there was ever a time to do that, it’s probably now as the world struggles to re-open (from the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Berlin looks at the area near the ballpark and sees a rebirth in the past decade — not only commercial but from a population standpoint.
“Downtown South Bend continues to grow the development and continues to enjoy investments,” said Berlin. “It feels safer. It feels more vibrant. And the stadium – I’m happy to say — continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the community as well.”
According to AECOM, the South Bend Cubs provide $24 million annual economic impact to the region (based on information provided by the team).
Through various charitable efforts, the club has donated nearly $1.6 million and invested over $32 million into facilities that would improve not only the ballpark, but the community as a whole.
Plans are in the works to expand Four Winds Field (capacity 5,000 permanent seats), adding an upper deck and more suites.
“There’s tremendous investment that’s going to be done in our ballpark over the next several years,” said Berlin, who put millions of his own dollars into keeping the team in South Bend and upgrading the park. “We’re going to be enlarging the stadium and offering more amenities. And making it a place that is comfortable.”
The park – then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium aka “The Cove” — was built in 1987 it cost a little under $4 million. He has been told that to built the same stadium that now exists it would run in the neighborhood of $85 million.
At the time Berlin bought the team from Kernan, Berlin was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago-based Berlin Packaging (he is now part of defense firm Shield AI) and the South Bend Silver Hawks were an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.
Near the end of 2014 came the opportunity to be tied to the Chicago Cubs.
“That was an extraordinary event for the team,” said Berlin. “But I also have to say it was a fantastic vote of confidence in South Bend and the Michiana region.
“The Chicago Cubs — one of the most-celebrated and oldest brands in all of baseball made the decision to come here rather than going anywhere else.”
Renowned third-generation Chicago White Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard was brought in to install the field surface and a performance center modeled on the one used by the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., was built at Four Winds Field.
The 1st Source Bank Performance Center is used not only by the pros but by the community.
The stadium is also ringed by four apartment buildings – The Ivy at Berlin Place. It is currently 98 percent occupied with two commercial spaces — one 6,000-square feet and one 4,000-square feet available for lease.
In 2021 — with the restructuring of Minor League Baseball under the oversight of Major League Baseball — Player Development Contracts were moved from two- or four-year arrangements to 10. South Bend is in the High-A Central League.
The South Bend Cubs’ lease with the city has 20 more years on it.
After having no games in 2020, South Bend drew 217,066 in 2021. In 2019, that number was 319,616.
The Indiana General Assembly passed the Professional Sports Development Act, which benefits the baseball team and other downtown places and businesses.
“Taxes collected in this area – rather than going down to Indianapolis — can stay here in South Bend and can help pay for some of the renovations for Four Winds Field without increasing taxes across the board. In fact, the PSDA wouldn’t even exist if the South Bend Cubs weren’t here.
Berlin notes that the expansion will help the team better cater its fans food and drink needs.
“Currently we are able to feed everyone in the ballpark with just one small kitchen,” said Berlin. “We’ve been able to make do with this, but in increasing crowds and increasing capacity we’ll have to add more back-of-the-house improvements like kitchens and storage.”
Berlin said light construction will begin before 2023 and then building in-earnest will happen after the 2023 season. In the past, smaller projects have been accomplished during the fall and winter months.
Berlin said he is hopeful that current supply chain and transportation issues that can affect construction will smooth out.
“Since we’re not going to be breaking ground for a little while, I have to think that there will be stabilization of the cost of those materials over time,” said Berlin.
What will the new capacity be?
“I hesitate to give you a percentage of increase, but it will be substantial,” said Berlin. “Of the 70 (home) games were have in the season right now, we’re selling out around 55 to 60 games a season.”
Those numbers are dependent largely upon whether and students being in or out of school for the summer.
Going back to 2011, Berlin was not sure he wanted to buy the South Bend team. He was convinced by Kernan and set about putting together his off-the-field team.
“Joe convinced me that this was a diamond in the rough and so we went forward,” said Berlin. “Once I was in, I was all-in. I learned in hard because I wasn’t going to get into a business and not try to be successful.
“And so I brought all the resources I could possibly muster. I was able to recruit some really amazing talent.”
Ever the optimist, Berlin sees his place in the community as a facilitator of memories.
Married with five children and living in the Chicago area, Berlin tries to spend at least one game per homestand in South Bend. Sometimes when his family is with him and the crowds have gone home, the family has a pick-up game under the Four Winds Field lights.