Silver Cross Field in Joliet: Beautiful but costly
By Bob Okon email@example.com October 16, 2012 4:48PM
Silver Cross Field in downtown Joliet carries the name of Silver Cross Hospital. | Art Vassy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 18, 2012 6:51AM
JOLIET — Silver Cross Field may be both a blessing and a burden for minor league baseball in Joliet.
Josh Schaub, chief executive for the investment group that is buying the Slammers, became a big fan of the Joliet baseball stadium when he came six years ago on a scouting mission.
“I looked around and thought, ‘This is a phenomenal facility — probably the most phenomenal minor league facility in the Midwest.’”
Schaub knows a bit about minor league stadiums, having worked as an associate scout for the Milwaukee Brewers for eight years. He said he’s been back to Silver Cross Field many times. But he’s not the first to be wowed by the ballpark, even as the hometown fans may have grown used to it judging by the declining attendance numbers.
When Alan Oremus, the current owner of the Slammers, bought the Joliet franchise two years ago, he talked about Silver Cross Field being a big selling point. When the Frontier League accepted the Slammers, its commissioner said the league looked forward to bringing teams to Silver Cross Field. Even former Cubs manager Lou Piniella called the place a “beautiful ballpark” when he was there in 2007 to film a TV commercial.
But beauty sometimes comes with a high-maintenance price tag, and that apparently is the case at city-owned Silver Cross Field.
Schaub and his group will be the third set of owners in four years who will try to make a profit at Silver Cross Field. Annual rent has dropped from $230,000 when the JackHammers last played there in 2010 to $150,000 when Oremus took over the next year to $50,000 for Schaub and his group.
The JackHammers were unable to pay the rent and argued with city officials over maintenance costs in their years at Silver Cross Field. Despite the lower rent, Oremus never signed a lease as the Slammers and city failed to reach agreement on who should pay for what at Silver Cross Field. And now rent is dropping to a level that may have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago.
But it wasn’t unimaginable a couple of months ago, City Manager Thomas Thanas said.
Thanas said he first heard from Oremus in early August that the team was up for sale. Thanas said he knew then that rent would be an issue.
But as low as $50,000?
“I had a feeling it would be that low,” Thanas said. “I had some conversations with some people who said even at $1 a year operating at Silver Cross Field would be very challenging.”
Thanas said utilities alone at the ballpark cost about $100,000.
“There are some in the business who said our park is too big and too nice for independent baseball,” he said.
One good thing, however, is the ballpark is paid for. Joliet paid $28 million in cash on hand to build Silver Cross Field in 2002 — back in the days when casino taxes were not needed to balance the city budget.
Now, city officials are trying to make sure they don’t have to dip into general city revenues to maintain Silver Cross Field.
Thanas told the city council, which approved the new lease Monday, that $50,000 a year would be enough to handle the city’s end of maintenance costs. The city as landlord is responsible for the stadium infrastructure. But the team pays for normal operating maintenance.
The team’s cost for maintenance is estimated at $200,000, Thanas said, a cost the city did not want to bear by leaving Silver Cross Field without minor league baseball for a season.
Schaub and his group, Joliet Community Baseball and Entertainment, will look to attract soccer and lacrosse games, concerts and even weddings to generate more revenue for the stadium. Unlike the early days of the JackHammers, when local fans packed the place, baseball alone does not look like enough to cover the costs of upkeep at Silver Cross Field.
The new owners have vowed to lower food prices, a concession that the local market may already find baseball games at Silver Cross Field expensive enough.
“This is not Chicago White Sox stadium,” Councilwoman Jan Quillman noted at one point during public discussions with Schaub about his group’s plans for Silver Cross Field. “This is small-town baseball in a blue-collar town. We cannot have Chicago prices.”