Baysox lease smile from city, neighbors

March 17, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

It has been more than a month since the Bowie Baysox moved into Memorial Stadium, setting up shop in what for parts of five decades had been the executive suites of the Orioles.

But the minor-league team doesn't officially become a tenant at the old ballpark until today, when the city Board of Estimates was expected to approve its one-year lease.

Unlike the board's dealings with the Orioles, which sometimes sparked controversy, the lease with the Baysox, and owner Peter Kirk, seems to offer only benefits to the city and to residents of the neighborhoods that surround the ballpark.

For city officials, the best news in the 11-page lease document appears to be that the deal costs more than what they already are paying to maintain the vacant building.

And if the Baysox, an Orioles Double-A affiliate, draw big crowds this summer, the result could be a six-figure rent payment for the city.

"Peter Kirk said he wanted to come in and play at the facility without having any negative impact on the city -- the lease does that," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Kirk, chairman of Maryland Baseball Limited Partnership, which also owns the Single-A Frederick Keys, said the team owes the city a risk-free agreement.

"Very obviously, the city, like every other jurisdiction, is incredibly squeezed for money. We are a guest of the city. If they are giving us permission, we should pay for everything that is required," Kirk said.

The Baysox, who are scheduled to make their Memorial Stadium debut April 16, expect to leave Baltimore after the season. A new ballpark in Bowie is in the planning stages and should be completed for the 1994 season.

At Memorial Stadium, Baysox rent will be tied to attendance. For the first $1.4 million collected in total ticket revenues, the team will pay only the city's 10 percent admission tax, according to the lease.

Between $1.4 million and $2.1 million, the Baysox will pay the 10 percent admission tax plus 5 percent in rent. And if the team becomes a summer fascination for baseball fans -- and the team's ticket revenues exceed $2.1 million -- 20 percent (admission tax plus rent) will go to the city.

No one knows how many fans will show up at the ballpark to check out the Baysox. But with ticket supplies dwindling for some Orioles games and fans searching for baseball options, there is the possibility of big numbers.

Schmoke predicted that by mid-summer, average attendance might hit 7,000 to 10,000 fans. Capacity at the ballpark is 53,371, but the Baysox intend only to sell tickets for the lower deck, limiting seating to roughly 22,000.

Kirk begged off a prediction, saying, "Anything I would say would be pure guesswork."

But told of the mayor's figure, he said: "I think that is realistic. It could be more than that. It could be considerably less."

The final rent figure will depend not only on attendance, but also on the price of tickets, which will range from $3 to $7. Assuming average attendance of 7,000, the team's admission tax and rent payments for the season could total $144,000.

On the expense side of operating the stadium, the Baysox will be handling most of the bills. According to the lease, the team will pick up virtually all costs related to the team's 70-game home schedule, including the costs of hiring a security force, cleaning up the ballpark after games and paying for utilities.

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