Thank you for visiting our website

Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two Bids Received For Harry Grove Stadium

George Wenschhof

As expected, two proposals were received by The City of Frederick. One from Maryland Baseball Holding LLC, owners of The Keys and Frederick Atlantic LLC.

A question many have been asking around town is why was a Request For Proposals (RFP) issued for the use of Harry Grove Stadium? The Frederick Keys are a single-a Baltimore Oriole affiliated farm team who have called the stadium home since it opened in 1990, playing their first year in Frederick at the old McCurdy Field stadium.

The short answer to why an RFP was issued is money. The city negotiated with the Keys management for some time for an extension to the lease which ends after the current baseball season.

When I talked with former City of Frederick administrator Rick Weldon recently, he said "the lease rate was the stumbling block" to reaching an agreement. The annual lease fee is presently thirty thousand.

As baseball fanatics also know, rumors The Keys were for sale have been whirling around for at least the last six months with a March 11, 2011 article in Baseball Digest saying multiple sources indicate The Keys price tag was nine million and the sale was contingent on a lease agreement with The City of Frederick.

Frederick Keys General Manager Dave Ziedelis assured me the team was not for sale and expressed confidence in their bid proposal. Over the last seven years, Ziedelis told me he has been involved in three lease negotiations with three different city administrations.

The lease agreement years were 2005, 2007 and 2009. The two year periods, an oddity, as most minor league teams sign long term ball park deals.

Ziedelis also pointed out the team has paid around $175,000 annually in amusement tax and have also invested significant capital into stadium improvements.

Interestingly, The Keys competition comes from Frederick Atlantic LLC who has a strong relationship with Opening Day Partners. Opening Day Partners has Peter Kirk as their chairman and Baltimore Oriole star Brooks Robinson as a partner. Peter Kirk is what makes it interesting, as he was the original owner of The Frederick Keys back in 1989. The team would play in the independent Atlantic League.

I met Jack Lavoie; Frederick Atlantic LLC Majority Member and Michael Kidder; an independent communications consultant and over coffee discussed their interest in bringing an Atlantic League team to Frederick.

Mr. Lavoie said his group became interested as the rumors spread The Keys were for sale and media reports indicated The Keys lease extension with the City of Frederick had not been finalized.

When I asked him if Frederick Atlantic LLC planned to move one of the existing eight teams from the two divisions within the independent Atlantic League, he said no. Instead, Lavoie said "the team for The City of Frederick would be an expansion team".

Lavoie told me after hearing the rumors surrounding the Keys, he reached out and met with Mayor Randy McClement, the city aldermen and city administrator Rick Weldon to discuss his interest. He followed up those meetings with discussions with many community leaders.

Back in February and early March of this year, I was in the process of meeting with city officials for I wanted to "catch up" after I had mostly ignored them during the 2010 mid term elections.

A surprise to me was the topic which came up in every conversation was The Harry Grove stadium lease.

It was during my meeting with Mayor Randy McClement one morning in February at his Deli, the mayor informed me, that due to the failure to finalize a deal with The Keys, he was going forward with a request for proposals for the use of the stadium.

Perhaps, the move to a RFP was a result of the botched sole source lease proposal for use of first floor space in a city owned parking deck for a restaurant. The sweetheart deal, once publicized, has yet to come to fruition. Another example of why I have been calling for the city to establish policies and procedures in regard to the sale/lease of city owned properties.

The areas I heard the most discussion from elected officials during my meetings with them pertained to the lease amount, the use of the stadium during "off days" for other uses (concerts, Babe Ruth teams, etc.), and improvements to the facility.

A concern I have expressed previously is the price of the concessions at the stadium, which are close to the price one pays at Camden Yards; the home of the Baltimore Orioles. While the price of admission has been low to see The Keys play, feeding the kids a hot dog and bag of peanuts has become a stretch for families attending a game.

The other prevalently voiced concern by the aldermen centered on whether there would be a significant difference between a minor league team affiliated with a major league team and a independent league team. However, all of the elected officials I spoke with indicated they wanted what was best for The City of Frederick.

A look at attendance records of the two leagues does not indicate a significant difference. Mr. Lavoie, who lives in nearby northern Virginia, said "he would like to see Harry Grove Stadium become the Living Room for The City of Frederick".

He has spoken with local American Legion and Babe Ruth representatives and would welcome their use of the stadium along with other venues such as concerts, when the team is away. Lavoie has even entertained the thought of providing a prominent display of the local Alvin G. Quinn Sports Hall of Fame memorabilia (currently located at the Talley Rec Center) at the stadium.

Whether The Keys are for sale or not should not be the sole question for city officials when they decide on the stadium lease, as minor league teams are often sold. The Keys themselves have been sold several times since 1989, the most recent sale coming after Comcast realized they were not in the baseball business. However, the likelihood the bidder will remain in the City of Frederick is important.

The decision should be based on the financial stability of the bidder, the viability of the bidder to field a team, the financial benefit to the city, and whether issues, such as "off day" usage and improvements to the stadium have been addressed.

City aldermen were provided the opportunity for input in the preparation of the RFP and Addendum, and when I reviewed them, it appears their areas of concern were included.

Now, the bids have been received, they will be reviewed by a committee which will make a recommendation to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, who will have the final approval. Mayor McClement indicated to me the review process will take at least three to four weeks.

One option in the RFP, reserved by the review committee, is to also ask for oral presentations from the bidders. An option, which would be prudent for the review committee to exercise.

It was a good move by the Mayor to issue an RFP for the use of the stadium, as the city should benefit as a result. What professionals in sports and in business want is a level playing field on which to compete - the issuance of an RFP should provide this.

May the best team for The City of Frederick win the bid.


To receive "Daily Email Updates" from Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof, click on "Subscribe to this feed" below.

No comments: