An agreement to lease Joe Becker Stadium to a baseball and events company was approved, with some amendments, by a majority vote of Joplin City Council on Monday night.

Based on a 45-minute conversation with Wayne Schuster, the president of Ventura Sports Group and Joplin Sports and Entertainment, the council asked that a date be added to terminate the agreement if a six-team league is not firmed up by Oct. 15.

Additionally, a specific rate structure for other organizations to hold events at the stadium is to be added to the lease agreement. A few dates that the city could use the stadium at no charge or minimal charge also are to be inserted.

"This lease is set up to give Joplin Sports and Entertainment the keys to the stadium," City Attorney Peter Edwards told the council. City staff recommended having one group in charge of managing the stadium and the scheduling of events rather than the city trying to coordinate the baseball league and others who used the stadium.

Edwards said Schuster is trying to complete details of his proposed startup Southwest League. Schuster said he can start the league with four teams but wants to start play in 2019 with six teams. The other teams would be in Texas.

If the league gels, Schuster's organization would use Becker Stadium for 56 games a year. He would be obligated under the agreement to work out dates that it could still be used by existing tenants such as high schools, the Joplin Sports Authority and the Outlaws summer collegiate team.

Schuster said he met Monday with the Joplin Sports Authority. He asked that organization to supply him with a list of the priority events and the dates they would play at the stadium.

Council member Phil Stinnett said that an important client of the sports authority is Premiere Baseball, which has two events here and wants to bring a third. Stinnett said he would like to see those events accommodated.

"They bring more revenue to the city in those weeks than you will have in one season," he said. "I don't want to lose what has been a tremendous asset to the community that has come here for years and years."

Schuster said those types of events could play ball all day until his league's 7:30 p.m. game time because of the artificial turf that the city has installed at the stadium.

Council members asked a number of questions about the details of the Southwest League.

Schuster said he will name the six teams March 1 because stadium construction will have to be done for the Texas teams. When pressed by council member Ryan Stanley on the tight time frame to get stadiums built and teams organized by summer of 2019, Schuster said he could start with four teams but intends to have six.

Stanley also questioned Schuster about the amount of money needed to start the Joplin team and the local investment needed. He said Schuster earlier said $1 million and later said $750,000.

Schuster said he has the money available to start the Joplin team, and believes that local investment is important and will come in time as the team becomes established here.

Asked what he will do if 2019 comes and his league is not ready to play, Schuster said, "In that 'what if' scenario, I think we would ask for an extension" of the lease agreement. He said he understands that a lease payment of $35,000 is due in January 2019.

Mayor Mike Seibert asked if there is a backup plan if the other stadiums are not ready for the 2019 season.

"We do have other places to play. It would not be ideal, but we could play," Schuster said.

Councilman Dan McCreary asked if there should be a termination date in the contract so that the city could cancel the agreement if Schuster's league is not ready as currently planned.

The city attorney said Schuster agreed that a termination date of Oct. 15 could be set.

The council voted seven in favor of approving the lease with the specified amendments. Stanley voted against it. Melodee Colbert-Kean was absent.

In other business, there also was a majority vote of seven in favor to enact an amended panhandling ordinance. The ordinance would require panhandlers and solicitors to stay 150 feet away from an intersection. The amendment adopted, again suggested by McCreary, was to prohibit people from standing on street medians to solicit. McCreary said he had learned some medians are longer than 150 feet and that is why he requested the change.

One council member, Taylor Brown, voted against the ordinance.

The intent to is keep those asking for money to keep from falling into the intersection or cars from running into each other when people stop to give a donation.

Union request

Capt. Larry Swinehart of the Joplin Police Department asked the City Council on behalf of the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27, to find a way to increase wages and take other steps to increase officer retention. The mayor told him the council will have a work session next Monday on wages for city employees.

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