The owners of the Lake Erie Crushers want to restructure their lease with the city for Sprenger Stadium by extending the agreement by five years but reducing their annual payment from $250,000 to $100,000.
Co-owners Tom and Jacqueline Kramig are proposing to extend the lease to 2029 but decrease their annual payment by $150,000, said Bill Logan, Avon’s finance director. The existing lease expires Oct. 31, 2024.
If the lease is extended to nine years and annual rent is reduced to $100,000, the city would lose $1.35 million in revenue. Besides rent, the city receives 4% of the revenue the Crushers earn from sponsors or advertising, which last year totaled $30,000. The city received $94,192 from the baseball team’s revenue over the past three years, according to figures Logan provided.
Tom Kramig and members of City Council’s Finance Committee met Jan. 27 to continue discussing financial information of Blue Dog LCC, the private entity that oversees operations of the Crushers. Most of the meeting was private, Logan said.
Councilman Bob Butkowski, chairman of the Finance Committee, said Blue Dog LLC’s request is being reviewed and that the committee probably will meet again in a few weeks.
“We’d like to work together and partner with the team, but we also have to look at what’s best for the citizens,” Butkowski said. “We’re looking at the feasibility of the amount that Blue Dog is asking to reduce its lease by. Any amount the city receives would go toward the debt payments on the stadium and any extra amount the city would pay would come out of our general fund.”
Tom Kramig said he first proposed the new lease agreement to the city in October, but the city has not responded yet.
“We want to stay in Avon,” he said. “We desperately want to stay.”
When the Westlake couple bought the team in February 2016, they assumed the 15-year lease from previous owner Steve Edelson.
The city financed construction of the $22.5 million, 5,000-seat stadium by borrowing money in 2008 and still has about $11.8 million left on its loans, Logan said.
The city set up two different debt payment plans on the stadium loan — one for $3.7 million, which is taxable, and the other for $18.84 million, which is tax exempt, Logan said.
The tax-exempt loan is on a 30-year payment schedule that started in 2008. The city owes $10.8 million, Logan said.
The taxable loan is on a 15-year payment schedule that also started in 2008. It has a variable annual interest rate of 3% to 3.5%. The city owes $971,289 on that loan, Logan said.
The Crushers ranked sixth in ticket sales among the 14 teams in the Frontier League for the 2019 season. They had a total attendance of 100,915 for 46 games last year, averaging 2,194 fans per game, according to Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee. That was slightly less than the 2018 season, when the Crushers drew 101,229 fans, Lee said.
Presale tickets increased, but walk-up game-day ticket sales were down, likely due to about 20 rainy days during the 2019 season, Kramig said.
“We had lousy weather last year,” Kramig said. “Although we were able to play most of those games, it had rained earlier in the day, and that hurts your walk-up sales because people are afraid to get out and come to the game.”
After Blue Dog LLC’s lease expires in 2024, the Kramigs have an unlimited number of five-year lease options, Butkowski said.
Councilman Dennis McBride said the reduction the Kramigs are seeking “is substantial.”
“Basically, I’m in a listening mode right now,” McBride said. “My basic reaction is ‘no’ for what they are asking. It’s a substantial reduction, but it’s not a 100% dollars and cents analysis. I’m of the mind to not reduce the rent unless there’s a benefit to the city, and right now, it’s not so much.”
The stadium is also used by Avon High School’s baseball team and Little League teams.
The city is responsible for most of the maintenance and upkeep. Avon has been paying an average of $85,000 a year for the past three years in maintenance and improvements that have included painting, Logan said.
“What Blue Dog is trying to sell us on is that they would make improvements to the stadium at their expense, but we’re not sure what those would be, yet,” McBride said. “It’s going to be a matter of how much those benefits offset what we have to pay, and right now, it isn’t much.”
The full City Council would have to approve any lease the Finance Committee recommends, Logan said.
In August, the city agreed to spend slightly more than $600,000 to replace the stadium’s artificial turf, which is two years past its warranty. The turf is expected to be in place in time for the beginning of the 2022 season, or as early as the start of the 2021 season, according to the city.
“The Crushers are a good tenant for us,” Butkowski said. “We definitely want to keep them here and see how we can help them.”
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