New lease deal for Goldeyes remains a field of dreams

Negotiations between the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Goldeyes over a lease deal for Shaw Park have moved into extra innings.

The team, owned by former mayor Sam Katz, and the city have been trying to hammer out a lease agreement since 2015.

Katz told councillors in July he needed a deal by fall. The Goldeyes’ league, the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, needs him to commit to another five-year term — and a lease agreement is part of that contract.

The city and the team have been fighting over the cost of parking rights and the use of city property for signage.

There may have been urgency on the part of the ball club, but Monday’s appearance at the city’s executive policy committee (EPC) didn’t result in a home run.

A group of delegates for the Goldeyes organized by former Winnipeg police chief Devon Clunis, acting as a consultant, appeared by Zoom before the committee.

The group included the team’s chief financial officer, Jason McRae-King, an auditor for accounting firm MNP and the author of a economic impact assessment of the Goldeyes on the city.

In a brief submission, McRae-King told the councillors the team would have almost no revenue in 2020, having been clobbered by the COVID-19 health crisis. The Goldeyes have played games south of the border this season but gleaned no revenue from the exercise, McRae-King said.

Councillors on the city’s property and planning committee had asked to see the team’s books and wanted more information about the effect of the Goldeyes on the local economy.

The city’s latest offer is a 15-year lease for Shaw Park that would see the team pay annual rent of $75,000 in the first five years, $85,000 in years the following five years, and $95,000 in the final years. There are two five-year extensions possible after the 15-year period ends.

The current lease charges $1 per year and expires in three years.

The Goldeyes would continue to receive entertainment tax rebates until fall 2029, then face a review when a similar deal with True North Sports and Entertainment ends.

The city would also gain some revenue from parking on land around the ballpark.

Given them ‘everything they’ve asked of us,’ says Katz

Katz says some of the conditions in the lease are unacceptable. The team must know it will get entertainment tax rebates in the future and needs to retain control over the parking lot, he said in July.

The problem at EPC this week was none of the councillors had seen anything the delegation said had been circulated to them.

Paul Olafson, the city’s interim chief financial officer, told EPC members he’d been in contact with McRae-King “every couple of days” or so starting in August, asking to get the team’s financial records, but the information didn’t arrive in city hands until last Monday.

Mayor Brian Bowman says he’ll scrutinize each deal with professional sports team as they come up for renegotiation. (CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman pushed back at criticism the city was dragging its heels on getting a deal, pointing out the timing of the disclosure. 

“If that is in fact the case, you would think that the information would have been provided in the time that was promised by the club. There were assurances to the city it would be provided to the city by the end of August and it was not.”

Katz says the team has done everything it could to be open with the city.

“We have provided council with everything they’ve asked of us, which no other professional sport team or private sector business has been asked to do,” Katz told CBC News on Monday. 

Katz says he doesn’t know if there is time to pull together a lease deal and satisfy his league’s requirements to sign on for more years.

“It’s in the hands of council now,” Katz said.

City staff are expected to have a report available to the executive policy committee by the next meeting in late October.

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