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Pittsburgh Tribune Review
by BILL VIDONIC

The city of Butler's cash-strapped Parks and Recreation Grounds and Facilities Authority has missed at least one mortgage payment on Kelly Automotive Park and is struggling to sell its minority stake in the Butler Blue Sox baseball team.

The authority missed a $9,000 payment on the park in February, where the Blue Sox play 30 games each spring and summer. About $1.7 million is left on the mortgage.

Art Cordwell, a member of the authority board, said he's confident a consortium of five area banks, led by Dollar Bank, will not foreclose on the former Pullman Park Stadium as the authority works to raise revenue.

"The banks are working with us. We're not able to make payments on occasion. They don't want to take it over. They'd be the owner of the ballpark, and what would they do with it?" Cordwell said.

He did not say how many payments the authority has missed. Ed Codi, chairman of the stadium authority, didn't return several phone messages.

Matthew Bright, an assistant vice president for Dollar Bank's commercial real estate lending and services division, didn't return a phone message seeking comment.

William Robinson, a Butler lawyer who represents the Blue Sox's majority owner, Perfect Game LLC, said his group is interested in buying the authority's share of the team, and said the health of the stadium is important to the team's success. This season, which begins at home May 29, Perfect Game will pay the authority $300 a game in rent.

"What happens if we don't have a place to play?" Robinson said. "The stadium authority needs to bring in other events, any activity that will bring in revenue. There needs to be stability so that both sides can move forward."

The stadium lease between the authority and team expires this season. Cordwell, who is executive director of the Butler County Redevelopment Authority, the county's development arm, said the majority owners have "threatened on and off in private" to buy the minority share and move the team.

Robinson said that was "ludicrous "" it's never been discussed."

In December, the authority said it would sell its 40 percent share in the team to the Nonprofit Development Corp., a subsidiary of Butler's Alliance for Nonprofit Resources, a support network for nonprofits, for $40,000. But the Prospect League, a group of 11 teams including the Blue Sox, rejected that sale without explanation, Cordwell said. Robinson's group feels it has first right to buy the authority's stake.

David A. Chase, commissioner of the league, would not say why the league rejected the sale.

"Selling the minority share at this time was not in the best interest of the league," Chase said. "We told the minority partners if they are interested in reapplying (to sell), they can do that." Cordwell said the authority will do so.

"The majority ownership is solid, well-connected with the community," Chase said. "They've done a marvelous job. They have made it a solid member of the team. They're the poster child for taking the team to the next level through the enthusiasm of the group."

The authority ended 2012 with a net operating surplus of $99,000, Cordwell said, mainly thanks to changes in the mortgage. Final 2013 numbers aren't available, he said, but he estimated that the authority finished about $14,000 in the red, and said that's because the authority spent money on improvements to the stadium.

The 79-year-old ballpark closed in 2005 for renovations and reopened in 2008. In addition to hosting the Blue Sox, it's a venue for youth and high school baseball games and other events. In the 1930s, the stadium hosted minor league teams affiliated with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates. Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Josh Gibson played there.

"It's a struggle every day to pay for that (ballpark)," Cordwell said, "especially during the winter months, when there's nothing going on there."

The Kelly Automotive dealership paid the authority $150,000 for a five-year naming rights agreement that took effect in January.

"That gives us some space," authority board treasurer Jack Cohen said. "We'll wait and see what happens."

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com

 

April 6, 2014

 

 
 

 

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