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Ottawa: We’ll take indy Can-Am over affiliated ball

Eastern LeagueOttawa has decided to go with the independent Can-Am League as a tenant for Ottawa Stadium instead of a Double-A team owned by Mandalay Baseball Properties, as a $40-million price tag was deemed to be too much.

A report from the city examined RFPs from Mandalay and the Can-Am League. The city had already committed to $22 million in Ottawa Stadium improvements and a potential $8 million in naming rights from Rogers Communications (though we hear that proposal was a lot less firm that many assumed), potentially giving $30 million for ballpark improvements. However, in the RFP, Mandalay and the Eastern League asked for $40 million in ballpark improvements (plus borrowing costs) — leading the city employees to instead recommend a lease with the Can-Am League, which has failed twice to sustain independent ball in Ottawa. The Can-Am League doesn’t have an owner for an Ottawa team; instead, the league would own and develop the team for a 2015 debut. Now, this isn’t a final decision: just a recommendation/report from city staff, and things could change between now and a city finance committee next Tuesday, much less a city council decision down the line. From the Ottawa Citizen:

Instead, the real-estate department recommends leasing the stadium to the Can-Am league, which would start a new team here under league ownership. Fixing up the stadium for the much lower quality baseball the Can-Am league plays would cost only $750,000 and leave the city paying $400,000 a year in operating costs. The team would play 50 games a year here, with the stadium available for rentals and other uses at other times.

“Can-Am baseball has operated at the Ottawa Stadium in the past with mixed results,” the report notes mildly.

Indeed. The Can-Am league’s Ottawa Rapidz played one season after the Lynx left, failed, and then just about everyone involved sued everyone else. The report notes that none of the many lawsuits included a fight between Can-Am league commissioner Miles Wolff and the city, which are the two key parties to the arrangement proposed now.

To say there was a lot riding on Ottawa in affiliated ball is an understatement. Both the Binghamton Mets and Erie SeaWolves — the two Eastern League teams potentially going to Ottawa under two different scenarios — are not going to be sold or moved for the time being. The Batavia MuckDogs (short season A; NY-Penn League), which could have potentially sold to Erie or Binghamton interests for $6 million, will remain as a money-losing enterprise. The sale price of Mandalay Baseball Properties to one of three potential buyers (one a baseball insider, two outsiders) went down: a team in Ottawa with a favorable lease is worth a lot more than a team in Erie when it comes both to revenues and upside (like media rights in Canada vs. the lack of media rights in Erie). And the Toronto Blue Jays— and owner Rogers — are losers when it comes to a new affiliate and a new presence on any 24-hour sports networks.

For the Can-Am League, it’s a huge win: We can’t recall a time when an independent team outbid an affiliated team for a ballpark lease. So it’s indeed an historic moment.

Here’s the full city announcement:

A staff report to be considered by the Finance and Economic Development Committee on October 1 and by City Council on October 9 recommends approval of an offer from the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball to lease the Ottawa Stadium and return professional baseball to the capital.

If the offer is approved, international pro baseball would begin in May 2015 with an Ottawa team joining five others in the Can Am league – two in Quebec and three in the northeastern U.S. – including 50 home games at the Ottawa Stadium.

“I am pleased that this challenging two-year process is coming to fruition,” said Mayor Jim Watson. “Our goal was to secure a long-term professional baseball tenant for this important purpose-built facility, and do so while getting the best value for taxpayers.”

Through this process, the City has refined its vision for the long-term use of the Ottawa Stadium in a way that will preserve the facility, see professional baseball return to Ottawa, and open the doors for a variety of other community uses. In addition to being reanimated with 50 baseball home games in a professional international league, the Ottawa Stadium would also be used as a recreation and entertainment venue with 50 to 75 additional days of programming each year.

“The City has worked hard to find a solution that is fair for taxpayers, sports fans, community groups and the public,” said Orleans Councillor Bob Monette. “If this plan is approved, I hope all residents will join us in supporting our new Can-Am team and attending new activities at the facility in order to make the most of this important community asset.”

The City would retain day-to-day management responsibilities of the facility, with the Public Works department operating and maintaining the stadium and the Parks, Recreation and Culture department managing bookings. Staff are recommending this option to the alternatives of mothballing the facility (leaving it vacant while continuing to pay maintenance costs) or demolishing it.

“This is an important facility for the residents of my ward and for residents across the City,” said Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Peter Clark. ”I am pleased that we have found a cost-effective way to preserve the Ottawa Stadium for its original purpose and also maximize its use for the community.”

The Ottawa Stadium will be integrated with the future Light Rail Transit line via a multi-use pathway link between the Tremblay Train Station and Coventry Road.

The City also received an affiliated Double A baseball bid. However, staff determined through a cost and risk analysis that the required up-front capital investment by the City of Ottawa in excess of $40 million, in addition to ongoing debt service costs, would not be affordable over the long term given the City’s other infrastructure and capital priorities.

An independent fairness commissioner was used throughout the entire recent Request for Offers process and concluded that the City of Ottawa conducted an open, fair and transparent competitive process in its efforts to lease the Ottawa Stadium.

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