Joliet panel hears from possible Slammers buyer
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org October 1, 2012 3:10PM
Joliet Slammers hopefully soon will learn their fate, as a city panel is hearing pitches from possible buyers this week. File photo |Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 3, 2012 6:15AM
JOLIET — Prospective buyers from Minneapolis appear to be on the verge of acquiring the Joliet Slammers, with the city poised to cut their rent at Silver Cross Field.
The new lease at the city-owned ballpark was not put to a public vote on Monday. But city council members after two separate closed sessions apparently have agreed to lower the rent and will vote on a lease agreement in two weeks.
“We have an agreement in place on the economics of the deal,” City Manager Thomas Thanas said after the second closed-door meeting between council members and two of the prospective owners.
Minneapolis attorney Josh Schaub had earlier made presentations on the group’s plans for the Slammers at meetings of the Joliet City Council Baseball Committee and at a full-council workshop session.
Schaub, who also is an associate scout for the Milwaukee Brewers and has other baseball experience, was joined by Tom Gump, a Minneapolis real estate developer. Schaub did not identify other investors, although he suggested there are others. He would not take questions from The Herald-News, saying he could not talk until a deal was completed.
An attorney with the Weber Law Group, Schaub’s practice includes sports law. He has been an associate scout with the Brewers since 2004. Before that, he was director of player/personnel for the Edmonton Cracker Cats, a minor league franchise in Canada now called the Edmonton Capitals.
Schaub told council members that his group has not yet completed a deal to buy the team from current owner Alan Oremus.
He called his group Joliet Community Baseball and Entertainment and said they are looking to offer more than baseball at Silver Cross Field.
The baseball team would still be called the Slammers and would keep the same logo.
But Schaub said he would look to add other offerings at Silver Cross Field, including lacrosse and soccer, and even graduations and weddings.
“Baseball alone is not economically feasible anymore in this economy,” Schaub said. “You have to have the whole entertainment package.”
The city has been trying to expand use of Silver Cross Field for years without success.
Oremus and current Slammer management also talked about bringing other events to the city-owned stadium when they took over two years ago. But Silver Cross Field has largely remained a baseball venue.
At one point during the baseball committee meeting, Councilwoman Jan Quillman noted some of Schaub’s ideas sounded familiar, such as adding local restaurants to the concessions at the ballpark.
“You’re telling me everything I heard before, which I was very excited about,” Quillman said. “It never happened. I want to know how you’re going to do it.”
Schaub said his group would bring in a special events professional to expand use of Silver Cross Field. But he acknowledged he would have to work out an arrangement with Levy Restaurants, which now has the concessions contract at the stadium, to change the menu.
Schaub also said ballpark prices for food and drinks have to come down — something the current team management also promised when it took over.
“We know that we cannot survive in this town with those prices staying where they’re at,” Schaub said.
As for staging weddings and graduations at Silver Cross Field, Schaub said it would be a way to put the stadium to more use, generate more money and ultimately bring more people to the ballpark.
“We want to have them here for weddings and graduations, where people will say, ‘We’ve got to get back here for baseball,’” he said.
Councilman Don Fisher said he liked the idea of new management including a special events professional.
“That’s something we’ve needed for a very long time in utilizing this beautiful stadium we have in downtown Joliet,” Fisher said. “That’s very important.”
Schaub said his group has not yet completed a deal to buy the Slammers, which would likely await city approval of the new lease.
This would be the third rent cut at Silver Cross Field. The original team, the JackHammers, paid $230,000 a year before they went out of business. The Slammers came in at rent of $150,000. But team management has said they could not make money with attendance at Silver Cross Field averaging in the low-2,000 range per game.
Thanas and council members would not say after the closed sessions what kind of rent the new owners would pay. But Thanas said the deal will be made public on Oct. 11, which is the Thursday before the Oct. 15-16 council meetings.
Thanas said the lease would provide for the Slammers to pay more in rent when attendance passes a certain point. The base rent would be sufficient to cover city expenses for maintenance of the stadium, he said.
The city also would share in profits from special events.
“We did not have that in the lease before,” Thanas said.
The profit-sharing arrangement for special events could serve as an incentive to bring more events to Silver Cross Field, Thanas said.