The City of Ottawa says it has struck a deal with a Winnipeg-based group and the owners of the Ottawa Redblacks and 67’s to bring professional baseball back to the capital.
In a memo to the mayor and councillors on Tuesday, economic development boss Steve Willis said the city has finalized negotiations with the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball club and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group on a 10-year lease at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park beginning in 2021.
Under the agreement, the partnership will pay the city $125,000 a year in base rent for the 10,000-seat stadium. The new tenants will also be required to pay the city more than $473,000 in outstanding debts accrued by the previous team that occupied the park, the Ottawa Champions.
Under a lease that was signed in late 2013 and was expected to last for 10 seasons, the Champions had been paying the city a total of $358,000 a year to rent RCGT Park. The city was also slated to receive 10 per cent of all gross concession revenues that exceeded $1.2 million per season, $1 for each car that parked in the stadium lot and 50 per cent of all net naming rights that surpassed $200,000.
The city tore up that agreement and replaced it with a new one aimed at saving the Champions hundreds of thousands of dollars a season after the club fell behind on its rent.
The memo said the new group will operate a team in the short-season Frontier League “or a league of similar calibre.” In an interview with OBJ late last year, Goldeyes vice-president and chief operating officer Regan Katz would not reveal which league the team would likely play in.
According to the memo, the city will share the use of the park with the new tenants. The new baseball ownership group will be responsible for cleaning the facility, while the city will take care of all capital maintenance and repairs.
The city said the new tenants will be exempt from paying municipal taxes on the property provided that “business activities taking place at the stadium are related to baseball and other related events.”
In addition to bringing baseball back to the capital, the new tenants also plan to host “a number of non-baseball special events,” the memo said, noting such events “provide the opportunity for increased use of the facility and revenues for both the tenant and the city.”
The Goldeye-OSEG partnership beat out a rival group of local investors – Rob Abboud, portfolio manager with Wealth Strategies, Fred Saghbini, a project management consultant, and Rob Lavoie, the regional operations manager of Play it Again Sports franchises across the city – that had also sought to revive baseball at the stadium.
Willis says the city’s economic development department will continue to look at other ways to attract “a more diverse mix of sport uses such as lacrosse and cricket, increased college and university access and other community options” to the ballpark.
While the memo said the Goldeyes and OSEG plan to “focus on building a profitable business venture,” professional baseball has had a checkered past in Ottawa.
The city cancelled the Champions’ 10-year lease agreement to play at the RCGT Park midway through the 2019 season and switched to a game-by-game payment structure after the club fell behind on its rent.
The Champions joined the independent pro Can-Am League in 2015 and captured the league title the following season. But the team failed to catch on at the box office, drawing fewer than 1,800 fans per game last season.
Ottawa’s stadium was previously home to a franchise called the Fat Cats, which was part of the semi-pro Intercounty Baseball League from 2010-12 under a different ownership group. The city also had another Can-Am franchise known as the Rapidz, but that club lasted just one season before folding in early 2009.
RCGT Park opened in 1993 as the home of the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx, which played in the International League for 15 seasons. The Lynx were the top minor-league affiliate for a number of major-league franchises, including the Montreal Expos, the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies, before folding after the 2007 season.