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The city and the Winnipeg Goldeyes may be close to striking out on a lease for Shaw Park, a deal that if not completed soon could turn out the lights on professional baseball in Winnipeg.
City of Winnipeg staff have proposed a 15-year lease agreement for Shaw Park, which calls to replace the Goldeyes current $1-per-year lease. Instead, the team would pay an annual rent of $75,000 in years 1 to 5, $85,000 in years 6 to 10, and $95,000 in years 11 to 15.
Civic staff also propose to offer the team annual grants that equal the amount of entertainment tax the Goldeyes pay each year ($325,000 in 2019), as well as the municipal portion of property taxes on the ballpark itself ($43,100 in 2019).
On Monday, council’s property and development committee cast a tied 2-2 vote to seek financial statements from the Goldeyes before proceeding with the deal. Some councillors argued having more details about the team’s revenue would help determine if more public dollars are justified.
"A really important role for the City of Winnipeg is to make sure that we’re protecting public funds," said Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre), committee chairwoman, who supported the motion along with Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface).
Couns. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) and Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) voted against it.
Rollins said she’s concerned about the finances and economic impact of the potential lease; Lukes said she fears a council delay could lead the team to leave the city.
"I don’t want to be part of losing the Goldeyes," said Lukes.
The tied vote means the lease proposal will head to council’s executive policy committee with no political recommendation.
The proposal suggests the entertainment tax rebates would last until at least Nov. 14, 2029, when a similar deal with Winnipeg Jets/Manitoba Moose owner True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd. expires.
Goldeyes president Sam Katz said the proposal also features a few potential "deal breakers." Katz said the team must ensure it receives entertainment tax rebates and retains control over its Westbrook Avenue parking lot throughout the lease and any extension periods, which its business model depends on.
The city proposal calls for the initial 15-year lease to include the parking lot, but doesn’t guarantee that will continue during two optional five-year extensions.
Katz, a former Winnipeg mayor, said he believes the Goldeyes’ current $1-per-year rent is fair, since the team spent $13 million on its $20-million ballpark, which opened in 1999.
However, he said rent is not a key sticking point in the deal. Katz warned the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball team is running short on time to secure its next lease, which he said it requested from the city in February 2015.
"(We need) an answer ASAP, because in October we have our annual meeting (where) we have to sign a five-year affiliation agreement and, obviously, with three years left (in our lease), I can’t do that," said Katz.
The current lease for Shaw Park is set to expire on July 27, 2023.
As sports teams struggle with COVID-19 restrictions that cut off access to audiences and revenues, Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) told the committee he fears the club’s potential departure would mean the end of professional baseball in Winnipeg.
"If the Goldeyes leave, to be blunt, no one is coming to replace them. It is a much harder situation than it might have been 10 or 20 years ago," said Mayes.
Any change to the lease would require full council approval.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
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