Winnipeg Goldeyes fans will once again hear an umpire yell out “play ball” at Shaw Park.
A compromise deal reached Thursday, through a city council motion sponsored by St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes, brought the city and the baseball club to the end of five years of sometimes tense negotiations over a lease deal for the park.
Mayor Brian Bowman was among the minority in a 12-4 vote that saw some members of his own executive policy committee choose to endorse the new 15-year lease deal, which will start in 2023.
Goldeyes owner, and former Winnipeg mayor, Sam Katz was ecstatic to see the multi-year negotiations result in a deal.
“We know that as of today, the Goldeyes will be here for another 18 years, and that’s the most important things to our fans and everybody who … works with the Goldeyes,” Katz told CBC News shortly after the vote.
Mayes said a failure to reach a deal could have left the city with an expensive liability.
“If they leave, we take over the stadium, so we don’t pay ourselves property tax. If they leave, we’ve got a vacant stadium, [which] we now have to maintain,” he told reporters.
The ball club and city staff have been trying to hammer out the details of a deal in the last few weeks, with the Goldeyes offering a compromise on the length of the lease.
The lease, capped at 15 years, will see the team pay less than was originally proposed, with the rent set at $25,000 per year for the first five years, $50,000 for the next five, and $75,000 for the remaining five years.
The city had previously proposed $75,000 in the first five years, $85,000 in the five following and $95,000 in the final years, with the option to extend by up to two five-year terms.
The current lease, which expires in 2023, charges $1 per year.
The Goldeyes will retain revenue from adjacent parking lots owned by the city, but only for the 15 years of the lease — not the additional decade the organization had wanted.
The ball club will also get rebates for municipal and entertainment taxes for the term of the lease, a package that amounts to approximately $12 million over the 15-year period.
The Goldeyes will be responsible for all the maintenance and upkeep of the park through the life of the lease.
Some city councillors, and the mayor, remained unsatisfied with how the negotiations unfolded and the measure of disclosure the Goldeyes provided to city staff.
“I haven’t seen the information that would give me comfort to support that level of subsidy,” Bowman told reporters. “I don’t know where that money is going.”
He voted against the new lease, along with Couns. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) and Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry).
Katz and his management team have repeatedly been asked for the team’s complete audited financial statements and those of Riverside Park Management Inc. — a not-for-profit entity set up years ago as a bridge company between the city and the Goldeyes.
As mayor, Katz faced intense scrutiny for land-swap deals, his financial relationship with then-city CAO Phil Sheegl, and allegations of fraud swirling around the construction of the police headquarters building.
The Progressive Conservative government shot down multiple requests from the city for a public inquiry into the scandals.
Bowman denied the shadow of that era tainted the negotiations, saying he’s looked at the lease issue in “as objective a manner as possible.”
Mayes, who was first elected in 2010, while Katz was still mayor, offered no comment when asked if those issues had influenced efforts to get a deal.
Numerous councillors shared Mayes’s concern, though, that without a deal, the park would become an empty downtown elephant, and the city would lose a relatively inexpensive source of entertainment.
“Negotiating in public like this ludicrous,” River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow told his colleagues on city council. “But at the end of the day, this deal is not that bad.”
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