The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 21, 2014

Joplin City Council approves lease for baseball stadium

JOPLIN, Mo. — Congratulatory remarks were exchanged Tuesday night after a meeting in which the Joplin City Council approved the lease of Joe Becker Stadium for a professional baseball development.

Local residents who support the proposal by WLD Suarez Baseball LLC offered handshakes and appreciative comments to the partners in the venture who want to bring a franchised team of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball to Joplin.

Even the league commissioner — famous in baseball circles for founding the league depicted in the movie “Bull Durham” — attended the council meeting to give his approval for the deal.

“We think it can be a great member of our league. You’ve got some good ownership potential here,” said the league commissioner, Miles Wolff of Durham, N.C., of the Suarez group. He said Joplin is a good fit, and “I think you’ll be pleased with what it can bring to your community.”

The Suarez group involves Oscar Suarez, a professional baseball agent; his son, Shawn Suarez, who has worked in minor league baseball; and Michael Wray, an Austin, Texas, real estate developer.

They propose a $9.3 million redevelopment of the Joe Becker Stadium area for summer play of teams from the American Association.

The lease requires the city to spend $4 million enlarging and updating the stadium. The baseball partners are to spend $5.3 million in building an entry plaza that eventually is to have a ticket booth, management office, restaurants and some loft apartments in addition to parking lots in the surrounding area.

In response to questions about the Suarez partners’ financial ability to carry out the deal, City Manager Mark Rohr told the council that he met with the partners on Tuesday and had been shown financial documents.

“I was convinced by what I saw they are financially able” to do what they say they will with the development, he said.

Rohr, asked after the meeting what documents he saw, said the partners shared with him financial statements of their business dealings and outlined the financing they would obtain.

Charlie Meyer, chairman of American Association league expansion and the president of the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs, described the league as “strong” and said Joplin would fit in with the geographical locations of other teams in the league. “There’s opportunity here, and we’re really excited to be here come 2015,” when the as yet unnamed baseball team would start play if the city proceeds with the remaining legal work.

While the stadium lease was approved, the council will still have to consider a performance agreement that is to be presented next month.

In anticipation, Shawn Suarez said, the partners will continue to work on some elements of the deal with the intent of beginning construction work when the lease goes into effect in August. He said the first work is to establish a presence in the community. Details of that are to be discussed at a news conference today, he said.

That could include a public campaign to name the team, and some of those details may be discussed today, he said.

Chris Cotten, the city’s parks and recreation director who began working on the baseball proposal in early 2011, said he was excited about the lease approval.

“What we agreed to tonight was basically to allow the team to play baseball in the stadium,” but officials have to get the performance agreement approved to protect the city’s interests, Cotten said.

He said no work will be done on the stadium before August because Missouri Southern State University’s baseball team and the Outlaws summer collegiate team will be playing there this spring and summer.

Background

THE JOPLIN PROFESSIONAL TEAM will replace one that has played in El Paso, Texas. It was known as the Diablos.

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