The Joliet City Council approved leasing Silver Cross Field to the prospective new owners of the Joliet Slammers Monday, leaving just the authorization of the Frontier League for the team's sale to be complete.
That OK is expected in the next week, giving the Joliet Community Baseball and Entertainment LLC the ability to start preparing for the next minor league season, which begins less than eight months from now.
Josh Schaub, a spokesman for the investor group of which he is a member, assured the council that the group has deep enough pockets to spend what's needed to rebuild the Joliet baseball audience, which has dropped off significantly in the last few years.
"We don't want this to fail," said Schaub, a Minneapolis lawyer who works part time as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers. "Our (personal) reputations are on the line. Our business reputations are on the line."
The city's lease deal drops the annual rent for Silver Cross Field from the $150,000 currently being paid by owner Alan Oremus to $50,000 for Joliet Community Baseball for the 2013 through 2015 seasons. In the final two years of the contract, rent will be $75,000 annually.
However, there are some provisions designed to benefit the city, including 5 percent of the profits from any non-sports events held at the stadium, a head tax of $1 to $3 should the team exceed specific attendance milestones, and 60 percent of the money paid for ball park naming rights.
At the council's request, team representatives will return in about a month to present their business plan and closer to opening day to provide council members with information on ticket and concession prices and rental costs for such things as the stadium suites and the hall of fame room.
"We have grand plans," Schaub told the council, "but there are certain parts of the Joliet community that we need to educate ourselves on before we start setting prices."
Schaub is also establishing relationships with local groups, including the University of St. Francis, whose baseball team uses Silver Cross Field; the Miracle League of Joliet, a local charitable organization that brings baseball to disabled children; and the Rialto Square Theatre, with whom they might partner on non-sports events at the ball park.
Schaub, who said he plans to spend a good deal of time in Joliet and may even relocate to town, said he first saw Silver Cross Field in 2006 when he came to Joliet to scout a player for the Brewers.
"I came back here many times after that just because I liked the stadium so much," he said. "I jumped at the chance to get involved (when the team went on the market)."
From the city's perspective, it's to Joliet's advantage to have a team playing in Silver Cross Field rather than it be dark for a season, City Manager Tom Thanas said.
It would cost anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 to maintain the facility and grounds and to cover utilties and other expenses that would otherwise be shouldered by the tenant, Thanas said.
"That alternative really wasn't a viable one from my perspective," he said.
There were several overtures made to the city about leasing the stadium, including one that would have netted more income, but the Joliet Community Baseball group presented the soundest operating plan, he said.
Thanas also credited Oremus with inheriting a situation two years ago that was akin to the Titanic hitting an iceberg and not only "keeping the ship afloat" but stabilzing it.
Schaub agreed, saying the goal now is to build upon what Oremus has already started.