Slammers sale? Rent is an issue again
By Bob Okon email@example.com September 12, 2012 12:36PM
Abel Nieves, of the Slammers, reaches home plate after homering in the fourth inning vs. Florence. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:24AM
JOLIET — Rent is an issue again as the city begins to look at proposals to buy Joliet’s minor league baseball team.
So far one offer is on the table at city hall, and City Manager Thomas Thanas is not saying what’s in it. But Thanas not only acknowledged that rent will be an issue again as the city looks at an ownership change for the second time in two years. It will be the “primary issue,” he said Wednesday.
The Herald-News reported earlier this week that Joliet Slammers’ owner Alan Oremus is considering a sale of the team.
The Slammers pay $150,000 a year to play at city-owned Silver Cross Field. That’s down from the $230,000 that the JackHammers were charged, although the team failed to pay its rent and other bills as financial troubles mounted.
Asked whether the city would consider lowering rent again, Thanas said, “That’s going to be an issue that the city will have to deal with, and that’s the primary issue.”
The city will have to sign off on any change of ownership because it owns the ballpark.
While Thanas said he has seen one offer in writing to buy the Slammers, five other prospective buyers have contacted city hall to show interest.
The written proposal at city hall now reportedly comes from a group of buyers that Oremus is most ready to sell do business with. But city officials may want to hear from others before they approve a sale.
“Absolutely,” Mayor Thomas Giarrante said when asked if he wants to see more than one proposal. “I want to take all the proposals that we can and pick the most qualified and the best proposal.”
Giarrante agreed that any request for another break on the rent at Silver Cross Field is going to be “an important issue, especially with our financial situation.”
The city is under pressure from neighborhood groups to beef up a police force that has been depleted by attrition and early retirements during a hiring freeze. Other cutbacks have been made in the city budget, and Giarrante emphasized that the rent at Silver Cross Field should cover major maintenance and stadium repairs.
“We are required to make corrections if something goes wrong,” he said. “We don’t want to dig into our pockets.”
Who pays for what at Silver Cross Field has been a big enough issue that the Slammers and city have not reached a lease agreement in nearly two years. The team is operating under terms that were supposed to serve as a temporary agreement when Oremus took over the Joliet franchise in late 2010.
While Giarrante and city council members may want to wait and see what all the interested buyers have to offer, it’s not clear how interested the other prospective buyers may be.
Thanas said he does not know. He’s received phone calls, emails and personal visits, but only the one written proposal.
“There’s interest in having the Joliet franchise,” Thanas said. “Joliet is still a very strong market — once one of the strongest markets.”
Average attendance in Joliet, however, is down by half from the 4,000 mark that the JackHammers saw in their best days, Thanas said. Slammers attendance hovered in the 2,000 range during two years of ownership, the first of which was a championship season in the Frontier League.
The JackHammers attributed their problems, including a decline in attendance, to the economic downturn. Slammers management has been frustrated by its inability to bring back fans.
Thanas said he is checking the background of the group that has made the offer to buy the team. He wants to know if they have the financial wherewithal to withstand a couple of lean years while building back attendance.
As for what the city charges for rent at Silver Cross Field, Thanas said, “It’s clear that there’s been a change on the national level on what cities can get for their stadiums. That’s something we are reviewing now in conjunction with this offer we received a few days ago.”