Manitoba

Former mayor asks city council for favourable lease on Goldeyes stadium

Former Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz appeared at the city's property and planning committee Monday asking for better terms on a lease deal for the stadium where his baseball team plays.

Committee grants more time to negotiate lease but calls for rent to increase

"If you want us out of business, just tell us that. I'm a big boy. I can accept that," Goldeyes owner Sam Katz told councillors on Monday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Winnipeg's former mayor Sam Katz is on a mission to convince city hall to scale down its demands for a new lease for Shaw Park stadium where his baseball team the Winnipeg Goldeyes play.

He succeeded in getting the city's property and planning committee to decrease the amount they recommend charging in rent for the facility each year to $50,000 from the initial proposal of $150,000. The current rate in the 25-year lease, which expires in in 2023, is $1.

An earlier recommendation from city staff also said that the city should take back two parking lots the city owns but Goldeyes have used since 1998. On Monday, councillors recommended a deal where the ball club and the city split the parking lot revenues, which adds up to hundreds of thousands each year, with 90 per cent for the club and 10 per cent for the city.

Property and planning staff also asked for — and received — more time for negotiation with Katz. The current lease for Shaw Park expires in 2023.

Katz swept into city hall Monday morning with handshakes for old council colleagues and even slipped into an early morning photo op with members of the city's Greek community, alongside current Mayor Brian Bowman.

The current lease for Shaw Park expires in 2023. Property and planning staff will have more time to negotiate a new lease with Goldeyes owner Sam Katz. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

The Goldeyes owner said he needs to renew the lease in order to make some capital improvements, including a new scoreboard, protective netting and upgrades to attract millennials to the ball park.

The Goldeyes pay their lease to the city through a not-for-profit entity called Riverside Park Management Inc.

In addition to the rent increase, a report presented to the property and planning committee Monday recommends the end of property and entertainment tax subsidies.

Goldeyes don't always make money: Katz

Katz told councillors an earlier report written for property and planning staff kicking off negotiations in 2016 — and which was cited in the report presented Monday — "was very biased, very inaccurate."

"If you want us out of business, just tell us that. I'm a big boy. I can accept that," Katz said.

The team is not always profitable and actually lost approximately $1.4 million from 2009 to 2012, he said.

Katz came to the meeting with his own report written by John Dittrich, an Illinois-based former minor and major league baseball executive, that detailed what some other sports teams pay municipalities.

Goldeyes, the report says, pays on average $201,438 more to Winnipeg than 11 other minor independent baseball teams pay municipalities, based on Katz's own report.

It also says each of those 11 teams were provided with an average of 1,175 parking stalls in close proximity to their stadiums, giving the ball clubs the revenue to support the facilities.

Shaw Park not tax-free deal: Katz

Reports completed by city staff were wrong in saying the team paid little in taxes, Katz said.

"The impression has been given that we don't pay property and business taxes," Katz said.

The businessman said he could provide cancelled cheques showing he had paid over $5 million in taxes.

Katz says Shaw Park provides community access through the Manitoba Baseball Association on days when Goldeyes aren't playing.

"They can come and use our ball park whenever they want, as long as it doesn't conflict," Katz said.

Former mayor Sam Katz (third from left) slipped into a photo op at city hall before appearing at property and planning meeting. (Sean Kavanagh CBC)

The head of the property and planning department, John Kiernan, told the committee doing comparisons between teams and their municipalities wasn't a simple process.

"When you look across the country [there aren't] apples-to-apples comparisons to make," Kiernan said.

Kiernan acknowledged the Goldeyes contributed "great foot traffic in the downtown" on game day.

Property and planning staff say some of the sticking points in negotiations on the lease include the land value, parking lots, community access and the termination date.

"We want a lease here," property and planning's Gord Chappel told the councillors. "We are not adversarial with the tenant here. … Give us some time to work this out."

Coun. Brian Mayes, who chairs the committee, recalled the departure of the Winnipeg Jets in the '90s and what some had implied was significant damage to the city's morale.

"If the departure of a pro sports team is likened to the impact of a once-in-a-century flood, these things matter to the public," Mayes said.

After the meeting, Katz told reporters he'd been pursuing a new lease for the stadium for more than four years and he was "glad to finally get here," but is disappointed at the slow pace. 

"We shall now see what comes back. It has been delayed for quite a while. … Hopefully we will be able to move this forward," Katz said.

Katz was also concerned a term for the lease had not been discussed in greater detail. He is hoping for a 15-year term with two options of five more years.

Winnipeg's former mayor Sam Katz is on a mission to convince city hall to scale down its demands for a new lease for Shaw Park stadium where his baseball team the Winnipeg Goldeyes play. 2:17

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