Hot Rods win two against Clinton

Bowling Green Hot Rods left fielder Manny Sanchez (17) rounds the bases for a run during their game against the Clinton LumberKings on Wednesday, April 27, 2016, at the Bowling Green BallPark.Miranda Pederson/photo@bgdailynews.com)

The Bowling Green Hot Rods have committed to staying at Bowling Green Ballpark an additional five years through 2032, the result of an extended lease negotiated between team owner Jerry Katzoff and the Warren County Downtown Economic Development Authority, the park’s governing agency.

When Katzoff bought the team in 2013, he inherited the last 15 years of a lease that ran through 2027. Katzoff said the lease needed to be “cleaned up” and revised in some areas.

An example is a change to the lease’s previous ban on outside food vendors operating within 1,500 feet of the park – Katzoff is the owner of two eateries, Mariah’s restaurant and 6-4-3 Sports Bar, in his adjacent Stadium Park Plaza development well within the 1,500-foot limit.

“Technically, that was a violation,” Katzoff said.

Another change Katzoff sought involved provisions regarding ballpark naming rights. The lease restricted selling naming rights to the park to someone willing to pay a minimum of $75,000 a year for 10 years – a $750,000 investment – with the money split 50-50 between the team and the authority. Katzoff asked that the required minimum commitment be lowered to $50,000 for 10 years with the Hot Rods getting 90 percent.

Selling naming rights is standard for sports venues, and the revenue is critical for the success of small market teams like Bowling Green’s Class A team – Minor League Baseball’s lowest full-season rung – that cannot operate on just ticket sales, according to Katzoff. 

“These kind of stadiums should be named. This kind of revenue is what makes these teams profitable,” he said. 

Authority Chairman Doug Gorman said the new naming rights structure provides a greater incentive for the team to work on finding a naming rights sponsor.  

The changes were approved April 21. In exchange, Katzoff agreed to extend the team’s lease for five years and increase the annual lease payment from the current $100,000 to $200,000 for the additional five years.

Gorman called the new lease much improved and called the Hot Rods’ extended commitment to stay here “a great thing.”

Katzoff has invested his own funds into upgrading the ballpark, such as cosmetically with paint, repairs and new concession areas, and in building new features such as a kids’ play area on the first-base side of the facility with a gate that opens to Stadium Park Plaza so the playground can be used even when games aren’t being played.

“He has invested hundreds of thousands in improvements,” Gorman said of Katzoff, who also owns Triple A minor league teams in Reno, Nev., and Louisville. “The great thing about Jerry and his organization is they have the background and experience and are doing a great job of taking care of the ballpark.”

The ballpark is now 7 years old.

“The ballpark needed a high degree of maintenance,” Katzoff said of taking over the facility.

The bond used to build the ballpark is scheduled to be paid off in 2038, but the bond payments are now lower, thanks to a deal that closed in March.

The Bowling Green City Commission earlier this year approved issuing a new bond, which through a lower interest rate will save the city millions when paying off the original bond.

The new bond deal closed March 9. The average interest rate for the original bond was 4.86, compared to an average rate of 3.51 on the new bond, saving the city $3,587,561 – $156,000 annually, according to city Chief Financial Officer Jeff Meisel.

“Saving $156,000 a year is nothing to sneeze at,” Meisel said.

— Follow city government reporter Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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