After reviewing the Ottawa City Council deliberations over a lease at Ottawa Stadium — with the decision to go with the indy Can-Am League over an affiliated bid — it’s pretty clear there was little commitment to spend money on serious ballpark upgrades.
You can view the Ottawa Sun story about the ballpark deliberations here, but the real details can be found in the live blog compiled by the Sun’s Jon Willing, where details over the bids were revealed. Or, rather, some details about the lease: city staff had set up the bid process to be totally confidential — an clause that extended to city councillors, much to their surprise. So the specifics of each bid was never circulated past city staff.
Which is probably why there was a slew of inaccurate reporting surrounding the bids from the independent Can-Am League and Mandalay Baseball Properties, who proposed bringing a Class AA Eastern League team to the ballpark. First off: it was reported that Mandalay had proposed a $40-million renovation of Ottawa Stadium. That apparently was not totally accurate: the bid specified $25 million in upgrades, $11 million in “lifecycle” costs (which we assume to be maintenance and other associated upgrades) and the remaining $4 million in unspecified “soft” costs. The upgrades would cover some basics (like bringing the bathrooms up to modern specs) as well as taking out some seating, buying a new scoreboard and installing a 360-degree concourse. Instead, the Can-Am bid commits the league to a new scoreboard — in 2016 — as well as the league picking up maintenance costs.
More problematic is the city’s unwillingness to enter into a long-term lease for the ballpark. While the talk was of a multi-decade commitment from Mandalay, city staff steered talk to a 10-year lease, with two five-year extensions, because of the potential of tearing down the ballpark after a decade in order to make way for light-rail-related development. That clause was reinforced by the council, who directed staff to make sure any lease with the Can-Am League ensured the city had clear authority to unilaterally end the Ottawa Stadium lease in 10 years. In addition, city staff only specified a one-year rent guarantee, so the Can-Am League is putting up just $108,000. (That same clause applied to the Mandalay lease proposal as well.) Finally, the city is looking at converting some of the suites to office space to generate some cash, something that affiliated ball would never consider.
So, to sum up: Ottawa wanted to lease the ballpark to pro ball but did not want to make a long-term commitment to Minor League Baseball on any level and was fuzzy on the actual expenditures needed to bring in the Class AA Eastern League. Instead, the city decided to go with the Can-Am League — which failed twice in Ottawa — and put off asking for any big commitment from the league past a one-year lease guarantee; not even spending enough for a new scoreboard. In the end, the city wanted a low-exposure, limited commitment to bringing a team to Ottawa Stadium, and they found the right partner for that with the Can-Am League. The point in all this isn’t to denigrate the Can-Am League, but to point out that it’s a very different economic model than you find with affiliated baseball — and one that seems to fit perfectly with what Ottawa wants at the moment.
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