Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bring the Spinners to Leominster

Last weekend, the Sentinel and Enterprise rolled out their periodic story about the plans to build a minor league baseball stadium at the old landfill in Leominster. The story is strikingly similar to 2006 reports, right down to Mayor Dean Mazzarella's still-moronic suggestion that the field could be used for Little League games when the pros aren't using it (note to the mayor: a Little League diamond and a minor league diamond are dramatically different sizes).

I have opposed the plan because I believe the city will be left with an empty stadium in short order if they build it for an independent league team like the Worcester Tornaodoes. The only way I see it as a success is if a team with a major league affiliation (like the relationship the Lowell Spinners have with the Red Sox) is the tenant.

Did I mention the Spinners? The single-A club is nearing the end of its lease with the city of Lowell and rumors are that the city will be holding out for more money in the next agreement. This is the break Leominster has been waiting for. If the city is serious about building a minor league complex, they should jump into the bidding for the Spinners and offer to let them lease the proposed stadium at no or minimal cost. Get the Spinners on board in Leominster and build the stadium now.

According to the Lowell Sun, city leaders are frustrated that they are seeing very little revenue from the Spinners' current lease:

Under the terms of the Spinners' current deal with the city, which expires Dec. 31, the team retains all ticket, advertising and concessions income but has to cover operating expenses and field maintenance....

[According to City Manager Bernie Lynch], while some Spinners fans include a stop at a local restaurant or other business with their trip into Lowell for a game, many just go to LeLacheur Park and leave. The visitors also require the city to pay for special police details and constitute wear and tear on Lowell's roadways.

"All of those things cost the city taxpayers money," Lynch said. "Based upon that logic, we think there should be some revenue that comes back to the city as a result of that."

Since the current deal took effect, for the 1998 season, the team's only payments to the city have been an annual contribution of $25,000 toward a repair and improvement fund for the park.
This is the big issue in all stadium projects and negotiations: Are the collateral benefits of bringing more commerce to the restaurants and businesses in the city enough to offset the artificially low rent paid by the teams? Some say yes, some say no (for a small city like Leominster I'd say yes, for a metropolis like Boston, I'd say no).

Lowell-based blogger Richard Howe is afraid that the Lowell city council are among those that say say no:

Be sure to get out to LeLacheur Park and catch a Spinners game this summer because the team will be playing elsewhere next season....

Every city in New England (except, perhaps, Boston, Pawtucket and Portland) would do anything to land this team. Anyone who thinks the Spinners could not find a new deal as lucrative to the team as the current lease with Lowell in another city just doesn’t understand the economics of professional baseball (and the motivations of civic leaders who hunger for a civic asset like the Spinners). But it looks like there are plenty of folks (on the council and at the [Lowell Sun] newspaper, for starters) who think they know better.
This is Leominster's opportunity. The problem, of course, is that the city probably can't build a stadium in time for June, 2009 when the Spinners (or whatever they'd be called in Leominster--the Flamingos? the Appleseeds?) open their season. But man, if they ever want to make a big splash with a ball team, this is the chance.

If the city is really serious about bringing minor league baseball to Leominster, they should do whatever it takes to get the Spinners to come to town. Otherwise, Leominster should stay out of the baseball business altogether, or at least until another affiliated minor league team becomes available.

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