A deal that would ensure there's minor league baseball at Silver Cross Field next summer could be approved as soon as Monday by the Joliet City Council.
The prospective buyers of the Joliet Slammers, the Frontier League team that's played in the city-owned ball park for the last two years, are in the wings as terms for a new lease for the downtown Joliet stadium are negotiated, City Manager Tom Thanas said.
If all goes according to plan, a meeting of the council's baseball committee will be convened Monday to allow the owners to discuss their plan, and the full council could review and even approve the contract that afternoon, Thanas said.
It's a quick turnaround, yes, but a necessary one if the new owners are to have everything in place -- schedules, staff, players and so on -- by the May 2013 baseball season, he said.
One certainty is whatever the new owners pay in rent will be less than the $150,000 paid by current owner Alan Oremus, at least in the first couple of years, Thanas said.
"Is this going to be the deal we had with the previous two owners? No," he said. "But you have to be realistic. They need a couple of years to rebuild baseball in Joliet."
That said, a sliding scale will likely be built into the contract that automatically increases the lease amount based on the number of tickets sold, he said. If the team is successful quickly, the city shares in that success, he said.
Joliet's in a good financial position in that it does not owe any money on the stadium. The $30 million structure was paid for in cash in 2001, and the lease money now goes toward maintenance and improvements, Thanas said. As long as the upkeep costs are covered for the next couple of years, long-term improvements can be delayed until the owners start paying a higer amount, he said.
However, the final decision remains with the council, which could reject the deal, Thanas added.
"What I'm going to deliver is the best proposal we can negotiate with the group," he said.
As for the new owners, Thanas declined to identify them other than to say that some are "experienced baseball people" and others are simply baseball enthusiasts who want to make an investment. None of them are local and none of them have previously owned a minor league team.
Thanas said he believes baseball can be successful in Joliet, despite the failure of two teams.
Part of the recent struggle has been due to the economy, which has caused people to cut back on entertainment spending and the fact that there are so many outlets competing for those same entertainment dollars, he said.
But the new owner will also need to overcome the negative feelings that still linger from the days of the JackHammers, when the team owners alienated people in town by not paying some of their bills and made other "political" missteps that continues to keep people leery of the industry, he said.
"I'm hoping that whoever the new owners are, we give them a chance to prove themselves," Thanas said.