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Safe at home: Slammers get a 5-year lease

Team wins Frontier League championship

The Joliet City Council approved a five-year lease with the Slammers, the city's unaffiliated minor league baseball team, despite one dissenting council member's description of it as the worst in the Frontier League.

While the council was voting Tuesday, the Slammers were ahead, 4-2, in the seventh inning of the final game for the Frontier League championship, a lead that held up to the end of the game.

The timing was one more example of the last-minute nature of the lease that was finalized just before the council meeting and less than two weeks before the current one expires.

The lease gives the Slammers the five-year term at Joliet Route 66 Stadium that the team wanted.

But it also contains a provision that allows the city to bring in a team affiliated with Major League Baseball – if Joliet is able to do it – with one-year notice to the Slammers.

Rent goes up to $75,000 a year, which is the same rent the Slammers were paying before it was lowered to $25,000 this year as a compensation for the team agreeing to a one-year lease.

Council member Larry Hug suggested the rent is too low, saying other teams in the Frontier League pay $250,000 or more.

"We have a lease that we were informed last night in executive session is the worst in the league," Hug said.

Pointing to maintenance costs shouldered by the city, which are expected to reach $200,000 this year, and calling for "guaranteed revenues" from the stadium, Hug cast the lone no vote against the lease.

"This is not a healthy lease for the city," he said.

Most council members did not comment on the lease, which was discussed in closed sessions by both the full council and its Stadium Committee on Monday.

Attorney Michael Hansen, who represented the Slammers, called the lease "a fair compromise."

City Attorney Marty Shanahan said new provisions in the lease allow the city to take a look at the Slammers finances and other team information.

"The city upon request can review the accounts and records of the team," he said.

The city owns the stadium, but the Slammers manage it. The arrangement has been in place since the stadium opened in 2002, although the city has become interested in having more oversight of operations.

Since the stadium opened, many in Joliet have also criticized the city for not bringing in a team affiliated with Major League Baseball.

Joliet may never be able to bring an affiliated team to its stadium, since Major League Baseball sets limits on how many minor league teams can be located within certain distances of major league clubs. The Kane County Cougars, the one affiliated team in the Chicago region, is said to be the only one allowed so close to the Cubs and White Sox.

The new lease, however, does give the city the right to replace the Slammers with one-year notice if Joliet is able to land a team affiliated with the major leagues.

The lease also increases the Slammers' share of utility costs from 45 percent to 50 percent.

Shanahan said the city and Slammers fans also get a guarantee of "first class treatment" in regards to such matters as stadium cleanliness, concessions and customer service.

Asked by Hug how the city would enforce such a guarantee, Shanahan said the lease also provides that the city and Slammers hold monthly meetings where city officials can press for responsiveness.

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