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Frederick to put ballpark lease to bid; Keys on market

Harry Grove Stadium

City officials in Frederick, Md. are preparing specifications in anticipation of letting the lease to Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys (High Class A; Carolina League), out to bid for 2012 and beyond — inconvenient timing, considering the team is now for sale.

City officials say they’re finishing the specs for the ballpark, which opened in 1990 as the home of the Frederick Keys. Since then the Keys and the city have had some battles regarding ballpark management and leases; for example, the Keys ended up paying for their own videoboard in past years. Last week the team and the city agreed to a one-year lease for $30,000, the same amount it’s been since 2009, but the lease now ends at the end of the 2011 season. Rick Wheldon, city administrator, says there will be an RFP for the Harry Grove Stadium lease issued in coming weeks.

The interesting thing will be who responds to it. Peter Kirk, the man who built the ballpark and who now operates several franchises in the independent Atlantic League, will certainly be bidding on the ballpark lease; he’s already set up a plan where Jack Lavoie would own an expansion Atlantic League franchise. To say he knows the market and the ballpark is an understatement.

The issue will be whether there’s an affiliated team making a bid for Harry Grove Stadium, and which one. Ken Young has once again put the Keys on the market, along with the Bowie BaySox (Class AA; Eastern League); the asking price for the Keys, we’re told, is $10 million, while the price for the BaySox is $16 million. Frederick drew 4,221 fans a game in 2010, good for third place in Carolina League attendance, and it’s considered a very good market; the Frederick economy is on the upswing and outpacing much of the region. (In fact, Frederick outdraws Bowie; perhaps the wrong team is playing in the Frederick market.) A new owner, of course, would be better prepared to respond to Frederick’s RFP and commit to a longer-term relationship, which the city is seeking. Still, the Keys, of course, are now a portable asset with a lease expiring at the end of the season, and that makes it an attractive acquisition. Other cities have expressed an interest in Carolina League baseball, like Kinston and Wilmington, but we don’t see either market being as strong as Frederick. (In fact, Frederick could make a strong Eastern League market, especially with some ballpark upgrades.) We don’t see MiLB too eager to give up such a good market.

Frederick officials may be expecting a bidding war of sorts, but we don’t expect one: another affiliated team won’t be making an offer because of MiLB rules, and we don’t expect another indy league to step to the plate. The storyline will be whether Peter Kirk engineers a return to Frederick — and how MiLB responds.

RELATED STORIES: Ballpark Visit: Harry Grove Stadium / Frederick Keys

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