RE: “Ottawa Stadium plan must not evolve in secret”

Caption

According to Citizen columnist Joanne Chianello, Ottawa Stadium should sit empty for a long time, as it did for an entire summer in 2009 (photo courtesy Canadian Baseball Network)

We have some breaking developments in the Ottawa Baseball world. Take it away, David Reevely:

Any scheme to pay for a sports stadium with a nearby land development will draw obvious parallels with the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, a $400-million project that’s to bring a Canadian Football League team back to a revamped Frank Clair Stadium, partly funded by commercial and residential development on the north and west edges of the city-owned Glebe property. The city agreed to a deal with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, composed mainly of developers, and had to fight several rounds in court to defend its legality.

A deal around Ottawa Stadium would be a bit different: the site doesn’t have a hundred-year history as a fairground and public gathering place and hasn’t been left to rot since the Lynx left after the 2007 baseball season, though it does need several million dollars’ worth of work to modernize and upgrade it. The city last year pledged to spend $5.7 million to retrofit the stadium if a team can be nailed down.

The Ottawa Stadium project being compared to the similar one at Lansdowne would have happened eventually and I’m not really bothered by that. However, it’s the idea of Joanne Chianello that is troubling me, as she wrote in her Citizen column yesterday morning.

It’s believed now that the city is dealing, not with Beacon, but with Mandalay Sports Entertainment and Professional Sports Catering. And not only will Ottawa not be getting a new baseball team this year, there likely won’t be one in 2014 either.

But here comes the most unsettling part, brought to light by Citizen reporter David Reevely: the city, the Eastern League and the potential franchise owners, have all been discussing options for funding the team that could include developing city lands.

Naturally, these revelations invoke uncomfortable comparisons to the divisive — and not exactly transparent — process that led to the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park.

Have our top city politicians learned nothing?

Perhaps they have. Although it certainly appears that the players in this baseball deal are hatching plans behind closed doors, it seems their machinations are still at the concept stage.

But it’s not too late to do this right, for a change. This latest discussion about developing land around Ottawa Stadium still seems to be in its early stages. In other words, exactly the moment when the public should become engaged. Many of our elected officials have said that one of their priorities for this term of council is to consult more meaningfully with the people of Ottawa. Here’s a prime chance for them to show they’re really ready to play ball.

From what I’ve read here, the opinion of Ms. Chianello is that there should be public consultation before a decision is made on what to do with the Stadium. This is the wrong way to go about things.

Chianello is right in a way – the city can indeed learn from Lansdowne Park with this new Stadium project. If they wish for the Stadium’s revitalization to be completed in time, I suggest that they refrain from public consultation.

We don’t need unnecessary delays here and while the public’s opinion is important, what good would it do? It would further delay the process of bringing a Double-A baseball team to the city. If they did go ahead with this, I would be surprised to see a team hit the field by 2017 or 2018.

This would do more damage than good to the prospects of off-field success. The reason that investors had their eye on Ottawa in the first place was due to the fans that the Fat Cats were able to draw. If this city goes 5+ years without a team – and you know that we would if a public forum is opened – that momentum that OSG and the Fat Cats brought could very well simmer off into nothing.

If they do follow the route that Ms. Chianello is telling them to, I would hope that baseball would continue to be played at the Stadium during the long and drawn out process, preferably in the form of the Fat Cats. Having Ottawa Stadium empty for that long would be an absolute disaster.

Taking the public’s consideration into account in this situation isn’t adequate. Given prior record, the review process could take years. If the renovations to happen to go ahead as planned, they’ll be handled well and the public will enjoy the new facility – those in charge know what they’re doing.

The city is pretty adamant that Double-A ball is what they want and it appears with these talks that things are on the right track (why would be even be discussing this if gaining a team was a long shot?). Let’s aim for 2015 as a first pitch date and stop the avoidable concern for public consultation.

 

Talks heat up as Watson meets with Jays

I’ve had a couple recent inquiries into what’s been going on with the Double-A situation. With talks heating up considerably as of late, I have trouble offering any sort of analysis – which could turn out to be a good thing for the sake of your reading pleasure.

I’ll let Ken Gray take things away from here with an excerpt from a recent post on Bulldog Ottawa:

Meetings in Toronto and Ottawa today [Thursday] and Friday have come about because negotiations have reached a critical point, baseball insiders say.

The negotiations include Rogers Communications, the Toronto Blue Jays (which are owned by Rogers), Mandalay Sports Entertainment and Professional Sports Catering (two companies interested in bringing a Double-A team to Ottawa), Mayor Jim Watson’s office and the Eastern League.

Despite published reports to the contrary, the team that would be expected to move to Ottawa would not be the Eastern League Erie Sea Wolves, sources say.

Plans to sell Mandalay are making negotiations trickier than expected, but are not expected to prevent the company from being part of a potential Ottawa franchise, insiders say. The same sources said they were surprised that Watson announced the Toronto negotiations because the situation is very delicate. Mandalay and Pro Sports are two of the most successful and innovative operators in Minor League Baseball.

The talks are expected to result in a decision on the future of baseball in Ottawa. Sources would not speculate on their outcome but would only say the negotiations had reached a critical point. The principals to the deal are looking for financial support from Rogers and the Blue Jays.

I honestly have no idea what to expect from this. What a whirlwind ordeal.

Firstly, I don’t think anyone with a casual knowledge of the situation would have expected Mandalay to go on the market. It makes the situation tricky, but more importantly, the sale of a Double-A team can still happen regardless.

Judging by the vocabulary of the quotes here from certain insiders in Gray’s post, it appears that this is gut check time for negotiations. In the few weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some hints as to what direction we’re headed in.

Considering that there’s still another two months that have been allotted for the deal to materialize since the original April 1st deadline was extended, I’m expecting them to take all the time they need – maybe even working into the summer.

That’s all for now, hopefully I’ll be able to write about baseball soon.

A few updates: Mandalay, Can-Am showing interest

It’s fitting that the deadline for Richard Billings and the city of Ottawa to bring Double-A baseball to Ottawa is on April Fool’s Day, as I’ve been fooled many times in this process – so many times in fact, that it’s tough to take any news or potential deal very seriously.

Take a look at this recent Ottawa Citizen article:

The Citizen has learned Mandalay Sports Entertainment and Professional Sports Catering, who already jointly own and/or operate several minor league teams at various levels throughout the United States, are working with Ottawa mayor Jim Watson’s office on a deal to completely renovate and operate Ottawa Stadium while bringing an existing Double-A Eastern League franchise to Ottawa.

Mandalay already owns the Eastern League’s Erie Sea Wolves in Pennsylvania, making that franchise the obvious choice to re-locate to Ottawa, possibly as early as 2014. That’s if a deal can be reached in short order for a complete overhaul of the stadium, long in need of a retrofit.

Professional baseball sources say the partners will “reinvent” the stadium as a sports and entertainment hub.

Industry insiders are cautious on Ottawa after a previous deal to bring the Eastern League’s Binghamton Mets collapsed at the final hour.

I’m definitely not going to call myself an industry insider, but those who are have every right to be cautious for reasons cited in the article. Nolan Ryan backed his group out of a deal after they decided at the last minute that they didn’t like what they saw, and the reports went from reading that Double-A was coming to the city, all the way to the other side of the spectrum.

It’s not the first time that’s happened either. Remember when the Bingo Mets extended their lease down at NYSEG Stadium? It was a similar story – this whole process has been an absolute roller-coaster and it shows no signs of stopping with a deadline looming.

Anyway, rant over, on to the point of the quote.

Reports made it clear after the Ryan back-out that we needed a new majority investor in order for this to go through, and fast. Right now, Mandalay Sports appears to be the saviour.

They also appear to be the real deal when it comes to success in minor league baseball. One of the teams they operate – the Dayton Dragons – holds the longest sell-out streak in the history of professional sports at 815 games and counting.

I had a little chat over Twitter with Dayton sportscaster Lee Mowen, who said that Mandalay does a great job with the Dragons and would expect the same with the Double-A team here.

However let’s not get too carried away (as we already have so many times in this process). The only thing that’s been reported is that Mandalay is in talks with the city and has visited the stadium. Nothing official has been announced, so for now all people can do is hope.

If things fall apart and the city can’t pound something in stone, there continue to be other options. Jon Willing recently had this piece on the Sun’s website. When you click on it, you’ll find that Miles Wolff’s interest in the Ottawa market hasn’t waned since the Rapidz ordeal.

“If the Eastern League fell through, we’d be very interested,” commissioner Miles Wolff said Friday.

Wolff said he was even considering coming up to Ottawa last month to check out the situation.

“It’s a major city with a good ballpark,” Wolff said. “The history hasn’t been that great, but there’s a good core of baseball fans there. The Fat Cats have done very well with just college players. It’s intriguing.”

I for one would welcome the Can-Am League back to Ottawa with open arms. It’s a quirky league with some potential rivalries (Ottawa-Quebec would be a great one), plus a schedule that fits this market a little better than that of the Eastern League.

There are lots of options on the table for Ottawa baseball, even if Double-A doesn’t get done. Given this recent Can-Am development and some other discussions that I’ve had, the possibility of baseball continuing to have a home on Coventry Road past 2014 appears to be alive and well.

I’ll have another update on the situation in a few weeks. Hopefully things will be resolved in the next month or two, but somehow I doubt it.

Side note

While we wait for this process to come to an end, I thought I’d share a piece of Ottawa baseball history. Some clips I came across a few days ago feature the inaugural Ottawa Rapidz game on May 22nd, 2008. This user has also posted many other videos from ball games in Ottawa, including some showing the final Lynx game in history.

The Inevitable has happened: Cats suspend operations for 2013

Mark Charrette makes his entrance before the Fat Cats engage in one of their final homestands (photo courtesy Freedom Photography)

Mark Charrette makes his entrance before the Fat Cats engage in one of their final homestands (photo courtesy Freedom Photography)

The news may not exactly come as shocking, but the Ottawa Fat Cats have officially announced their suspension of operations for at least the 2013 season. The Fat Cats announced this today on their facebook page:

Dear Fans:

It is our deepest regret to announce that the Fat Cats have ceased operations for the 2013 baseball season. We want to take the time to thank the amazing fans of Ottawa, who supported us during the past three seasons. Staff, players and management have enjoyed spending summer weekends with the greatest fans in the league and we continued to hope that a resolution would be made with the city for a lease extension. Unfortunately, the city did not extend a lease to the Fat Cats, making it impossible for us to continue to operate. Our goal is to continue the baseball tradition in Ottawa and we will remain in contact with the City in order to work out a new lease agreement. On behalf of the players, the staff and the management team, we would like to thank you for your continued support of baseball in Ottawa. We hope to one day return to the field and offer our fans the most affordable family entertainment.

Happy holidays,

Ottawa Fat Cats Management

The news isn’t exactly shocking, as we know what the intentions of the city are. It’s Double-A or bust by the looks of it, as they barely gave the Cats a chance at survival.

I’ve covered this whole story fairly closely, there’s lots of info out there on the quest for Double-A and the situation that the Fat Cats have been thrown into here, so I’ll keep things short tonight. That being said, there are a few things that I want heard.

The situation here in Ottawa right now couldn’t get any messier. The future of the sport is up in the air because of an ownership group pulling the plug and it doesn’t really appear that anyone is happy about the current standing of things on either side.

Could the situation have been fixed? I believe the Fat Cats could definitely be playing in 2014, but when it comes to Double-A, it is what it is. The only thing we can really do is hope that it materializes, because it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing baseball again if it falls through.

The Ryan group backed out for unknown reasons, but from what I’ve heard they were asking for too much.

That’s life, but there was a set renovation schedule for Ottawa Stadium last summer and the Fat Cats were told that they’d be allowed to play. What would’ve made this year any different? Don’t say they would’ve had less time this go around, because the original target date for Double-A ball was 2013.

Mayor Watson and the city could’ve handled the situation differently. Will it result in baseball being exiled from the city? Maybe.

The thought that I may never watch another baseball game at Ottawa Stadium is a hard one to stomach. If that is the case, however, I’ll really have no choice but to shut The Litter Box down. Hopefully that won’t have to happen – I’ve heard conflicting reports on the status of the deal. We’ll know for sure what will happen by April 1st, assuming that Richard Billings and Beacon won’t get another extension. Doubt they can finalize things any later than the April date, however.

The Fat Cats have provided many great moments over the years. From Matt McGovern picking apart the Barrie Baycats, to Wade Wilson’s desperation dive in right field to preserve a Fat Cats win. Things are looking pretty bleak right now, but we can still hope that there will be many more memories to come.

Wrong turns

Most of you will know that those attempting to bring Double A baseball to the city were originally presented with a deadline of – pretty much right now. The details surrounding the team were supposed to be coming out around this point.

However significant hurdles have been put in the way of Beacon’s progress. Hurdles that once again have me worried about the future and have taught me a lesson: always be sceptic until something concrete is announced.

The bid to bring professional baseball back to Ottawa is facing long odds after the projected majority owner and one of the big-name minority ownership partners have apparently backed out, the Citizen has learned.

A Texas-based businessman, who was considered the front-runner to finance much of the purchase price of the Double-A Eastern League’s Binghamton Mets and provide a majority of the operating capital for the new Ottawa franchise, is believed to have pulled the plug within the last two weeks for undisclosed reasons.

There was an extension granted a little while ago on the deadline for securing the franchise. I now see why that happened. They need to find a majority owner!

At this point, I would just ditch the 2014 target date. In my opinion, they’re setting themselves out for failure by attempting to go for that. It would give them just over a year to set things up and with a situation like Ottawa’s; I don’t think that’s enough time.

All this depends on whether Beacon will continue on in their trek to save Ottawa baseball. I have sent an email to the Beacon CEO, but he has yet to respond (going to be honest, I’m not really holding my breath). In fact, all Ottawa baseball groups and the Mayor haven’t been able to comment.

Look, I’m a kid. A kid who stumbled upon the Ottawa Lynx in 2007 – the worst possible time for an Ottawan to become a baseball fan. Since that point, around June of that year, I’ve devoted my summers to this sport only to have my adopted team taken away from me 3 times now (Lynx, Rapidz, Fat Cats).

After all the interest the winning Fat Cats team generated, it appeared that we were getting a fresh start and the feeling accompanying that may have been bitter-sweet for obvious reasons, but in the end it was a good one because of the fall-back. Were there flaws in the process that had the Fat Cats getting kicked out of the stadium? Absolutely. However, the one thing that I could fall back on until this point is that there was still baseball in Ottawa’s future.

Now, it appears that we’ve taken the dark and gloomy road. Soon there may be nothing to fall back on and baseball could be gone from this city for good.

That’s not a good feeling.

Double-A ownership to be announced in early December

There are reports coming in that work on the pedestrian bridge at Ottawa Stadium has started – the stadium itself should be next

Well, you can apparently throw that last blurb of fearmongering down the drain. New details regarding ownership are coming out over the new Double-A team here in Ottawa.

A recent Ottawa Citizen article reports that baseball’s strikeout king Nolan Ryan is expected to have a stake in Ottawa’s new team. It goes on to claim that we’ll see the entire ownership group announced by Beacon Sports “around December 1st”.

You can bet your house that I’ll be asking the majority owner about the Fat Cats very shortly after the announcement.

This is all good news, but the fight for keeping the stadium isn’t over yet, as EL president Joe McEacharn said that we’ll only see Double-A baseball here if the league is certain that the team can succeed.

Can it? I hope so. There aren’t many doubts in my mind if the team is affiliated with the Jays, but otherwise it’s a toss-up. I’m not so sure that we’ll see the Ottawa Blue Jays either – especially after this news about Ryan’s group. One would think that if Nolan Ryan is involved, one of the team’s that he is connected with would be too. Could we see the Texas Rangers or Houston Astros move their team here? Fairly unlikely, but you never know.

The Jays aren’t ruled out either, however, as Jim Watson wished hinted that we may have the Jays team coming over in this chat with the Ottawa Sun’s Tim Baines.

One thing’s for sure, the sports world is abuzz over the Eastern League’s supposed new addition.

 

End of the line for the Fat Cats: Could Ottawa Baseball also be in jeopardy?

Since the last time we talked a few days ago, Mayor Jim Watson had an editorial published in the Ottawa Citizen. As Ken Gray pointed out on Bulldog Ottawa, there has been a slight change of words from Jimmy on the status of Double-A baseball.

We are also working with the private sector to revitalize an important asset in the east end of the core – the Ottawa Stadium. We are working on a plan to make this a family-friendly destination once again. By Christmas, we will know if our efforts to attract investors willing to help bring professional baseball back to Ottawa have been successful.

Hang on a sec here. Here’s a separate excerpt from an article published in the Citizen on September 6th.

An announcement on which franchise and which major league affiliate will move to Ottawa could come as early as next month, though more likely at the annual Baseball Winter Meetings Dec. 3-6 in Nashville.

The Ottawa ownership group is known to city politicians and could be announced as early as next month. McEacharn expects the new Ottawa ownership group will have people in place early in the New Year and will be open for business sometime in January. That will give the franchise 15 months to prepare for its first season, and the first season of affiliated professional baseball in Ottawa since 2007.

He also said the city that loses its Double-A franchise will be awarded a minor league affiliate at a lower level, quite likely short-season Single-A.

It appeared that a few weeks back Double-A ball was a done deal here. Now, not so much. What happened that caused such a change?

I wouldn’t mind an explanation from the Mayor. The potential for no Double-A baseball team here also raises the potential for Ottawa Stadium to get mothballed. The city also doesn’t appear to be eager to look back at OSG and give them their own long-term deal on the place if the previous leases they were given are any indication.

Update – 10/30/2012 – 11:20 pm

I actually sent Ken Gray an email on this entire debacle and he decided to reply publicly on Bulldog Business. Check out what he had to say, plus my email to him right here.

In a nutshell, Ken ran down his talks with prominent folks in the effort to bring Double-A ball here, but there wasn’t really much that I was hoping to see. David Gourlay treaded carefully and said that his group would work with a new ownership group.

No guarantees there – not that I was really expecting any from Dave as he is more of an advocate for a Double-A squad. He likely knows just a tad more than I do. Who I was looking for something from was Richard Billings of Beacon Sports. The following is from Ken Gray’s Bulldog entry.

However Richard Billings of Beacon Sports contacted me Monday saying there is a lot of work to be completed but that getting the team in Ottawa is on track for 2014 and that Ottawans “will be very pleased” with the ownership group that has been assembled. The work that is being done at present is the normal process that would lead to the announcement of the new owners this coming December.

Take what you will out of that.