Wayne's Words: Summer and Baseball

Wayne Horne | 7/7/2016, 5 a.m.
Baseball in Joliet is approaching the halfway mark for the season and the Slammers are looking pretty good. For the ...

Baseball in Joliet is approaching the halfway mark for the season and the Slammers are looking pretty good. For the first time in many years they are leading the Frontier League East Division with a 28-19 record as of Tuesday. The Slammers have 26 home games left in the regular season at Silver Cross Field this year with the potential of making the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season. They won the Frontier League Championship that year. Attendance for the season was over 108,000 people and averaged 2,311 fans per game.

Success has eluded the Slammers on the diamond since 2011’s championship season, until this year. Fan turnout has declined every year since the inaugural season in 2002, until last year. Attendance in 2015 was up by less than 3,000 fans but the per game stat increased by over 10 percent. At the current pace the Slammers gate could top 100,000 fans in the park this year for the first time since 2012. Success on the field for the Slammers is a welcome addition to the summer.

Economic success at Silver Cross Field has been elusive since the day it opened. The 2011 season was the first year of a five-year lease that expires after the 2017 Slammers season. The base rent paid by the Slammers organization increased from $50,000 per year to $75,000 starting in 2015 through 2017. Also in 2016 an additional $1.00 per person rent based on attendance over 95,000 could increase that figure by $5,000 or more.

You’re right if you believe that’s not much rent for a taxpayer owned stadium that holds more than 6,000 people. Just to give you some perspective, the first occupants of Silver Cross Field in 2002, the Joliet Jackhammers, paid over $200,000 in rent. Of course they went bankrupt and failed to pay the rent for the last two years they were there. A more successful perspective would be that of the Kane County Cougars who have paid rent as high $1 million in a season. The ballpark is owned by the Kane County Forest Preserve and the team that plays there is affiliated with Major League Baseball.

Two teams that are in the Frontier League with the Slammers are the Boomers from Schaumburg and Windy City from Crestwood. Fan capacity at the Schaumburg park is 7500 and is currently averaging over 3,500 per game. A total of 162,210 fans saw games in their park last year. Windy City’s ballpark is about half the size of Silver Cross Field and had attendance last year of 76,550 fans. By comparison, the Slammers had a little over 95,000 paid attendance last year.

The City of Joliet spends more on the stadium each year than it receives in rent. In fact, the City splits the naming rights with the Slammers organization each year. The Slammers share just about covers the small amount of rent they do pay. Recent discussions regarding replacing the grass field with artificial turf for over $1 million should remain on the shelf unless the baseball organization wishes to foot the bill.

The ballpark is an asset to the city and we are obligated to its success. Lease negotiations will probably begin sometime after this season. If we continue to treat Silver Cross Field like a money loser than that’s what it will be. Other ballparks in the area bring in more fans and have more revenue to expand the operations of the park. We should treat the stadium like a business asset or get out of the business.

One last thing… approximately five years ago this column featured a bit about the Joliet Junior College City Center Campus building in downtown Joliet that was scheduled for completion in the winter of 2013. Originally, the building was scheduled to be a ten story structure with a completion date of Spring 2012. To date the building is not yet complete, but they are working on it. The other part of the piece was mention of the absence of the promised State of Illinois funding for the JJC project. The state funding is just a wish at this point. The JJC has, however, raised property taxes and student fees to cover the cost of completion. The Master Plan for the project never did provide for a source of the funds for the project but they went ahead and built it anyway. Good plan. Stay tuned…

Contact Wayne at wayneswords@thetimesweekly.com