The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 9, 2013

Joplin City Council moving forward with baseball deal

JOPLIN, Mo. — Drafting an agreement that would bring professional baseball to Joplin won City Council authorization at a special meeting Monday night.

The council voted to have the city staff write a formal agreement defining the terms of a deal toward relocating the El Paso (Texas) Diablos to Joplin. That agreement may be presented as soon as next Monday if the city’s legal staff can finish it that soon, according to the discussion.

City Manager Mark Rohr told the council that bringing the team, affiliated with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, to Joplin could advance economic development and quality of life on several fronts.

Among those, Rohr said, would be to bring people into the city to help with other economic development efforts. “It could be part of an entertainment rectangle in the city by linking it to the (proposed) library-movie theater development on 20th Street and the cultural arts center and town green in the north part of downtown,” he said. “In addition, it could set the stage for the redevelopment of the Broadway section of Joplin.”

The city’s part of the deal would require renovation and expansion of historic Joe Becker Stadium.

Rohr said the city’s proposed investment has been reduced from $5.9 million to $4 million because the El Paso owners have agreed to take on the cost of building more stadium parking. In return for assuming the cost of buying land and constructing lots, the team ownership could charge for parking to recoup the cost.

The team’s contribution to the deal would be to build a $4 million entry plaza to the stadium with the additional costs for parking construction. Owners also would be responsible for team operational costs.

 The city staff also presented two options for financing the city’s investment. Both options involve the city going into debt, and one involves an effort to raise the city’s motel tax.

The funding under both proposals would be drawn from a variety of sources, according to city Finance Director Leslie Haase.

Option one calls for:

• Selling city property surrounding the stadium to the team for $161,000.

• Using $500,000 from a previous settlement the city received from cellphone taxes and another $500,000 from a $2 million balance that has accumulated in the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau fund.

• Taking $1 million from the city’s workers’ compensation fund balance, which currently stands at $2.5 million.

• Issuing bonds for about $1.9 million.

Under this option, Haase said, the debt payments of $140,585 a year would be paid from rent the city would collect from the team for the use of the stadium at $150,000 a year. The bonds would be issued for 20 years at 4 percent interest. Team representatives previously said they would be willing to sign a 10-year lease for the stadium with a 10-year option.

Option two calls for:

• Selling the city property at $161,000.

• Using $339,000 from the cellphone tax settlement.

• Issuing $3.5 million in bonds.

The average annual payment on the bonds would cost $266,000. A 1-cent increase in the city’s motel tax would generate $280,000, according to the figures Haase presented.

After council discussion of the proposals and questions about the team’s viability in Joplin, Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg said he favors option two involving an increase in the motel tax.

Council members were not in agreement on voting so quickly on a financing method.

Rohr asked the council to provide an answer as to whether to proceed with an agreement and suggested that the council further discuss the proposed financing options at a later date.

The council agreed, and all seven members present voted in favor of drafting a formal agreement to proceed. Two council members, Bill Scearce and Trisha Raney, were absent.

“We’re encouraged the council made the necessary steps to move forward,” said Shawn Suarez, director of operations for the team. “Relocations are always a process. We remain committed to this city.”

Joplin Miners?

ANOTHER NAME would be selected for the team if it relocates to Joplin. That could be the Joplin Miners, but the public would be involved in the name selection, said team representative Michael Wray.

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