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Local News

Lease up in the air as Slammers return to Joliet to finish championship series

Joliet City Council will vote on lease Tuesday

Slammers fans line up May 15 outside Route 66 Stadium in Joliet.
Slammers fans line up May 15 outside Route 66 Stadium in Joliet.

The Joliet Slammers’ future in town is unsettled as the team returns to Joliet on Friday for the final games of the Frontier League Championship series.

The Slammers still do not have a lease for next year – something the team said it needs now if it’s going to stay in the Frontier League.

The lease expires Oct. 1.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on a stadium lease Tuesday. But key conditions including rent and length of the lease are said to be unsettled.

The city and the Slammers went down to the wire last year before negotiating a one-year lease designed to buy time while new artificial turf was installed in the offseason at a price of $1.6 million, a city expense aimed at boosting stadium use and revenue.

But Slammers owner Nick Semaca said the team is not going to settle for a short-term lease again. And city officials appear dissatisfied with the use the stadium is getting and the revenue the team generates.

Semaca said the Slammers “need a five-year lease” to grow the business and plan for the future.

“Five years is what I would call a minimum span in terms of a lease in minor league baseball,” Semaca said. “It’s what the city promised us last time. They promised us a long-term lease.”

The city, however, may be reluctant to commit to five years with the Slammers based on the $25,000 annual rent the team now pays.

Councilman Pat Mudron, who heads the Stadium Committee, said city staff has been negotiating for a bigger share of revenue the Slammers get as managers of the stadium through advertising, rentals and other stadium uses.

“On the field, I don’t know that they can get any better,” Mudron said, pointing to the Frontier League championship series. “The Slammers are in the finals, but they don’t draw anybody.”

At one point while the Slammers were in first place, their attendance was the lowest in the league, a situation that the team blamed on bad weather early in the season when most home games were played.

Attendance rose from the bottom by the end of the year. Where they finished is hard to tell, since the Frontier League website now lists only playoff attendance.

The lease is on the agenda for a Stadium Committee meeting at 4 p.m. Monday.

City Manager David Hales said a final version of the lease probably will not be hammered out until Tuesday before that evening’s council meeting. He did not predict the results.

“I don’t exactly know what will be the action taken,” Hales said. “But it will be on the agenda.”

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