After weeks of debate, the Mobile City Council voted unanimously to allow the Mobile Sports and Entertainment Group (MSEG) to take over the contract for the use of Hank Aaron Stadium.
MSEG will take over the final two years of the contract between the city and BallCorps LLC, the owner of the team formerly known as the Mobile BayBears. As part of the agreement, MSEG will continue to pay $25,000 per quarter in rent for the stadium’s use, as well as take over maintenance and utility payments.
In the short term, the group is looking to bring high school and college baseball games and concerts to the facility named for the Hall of Fame player and Mobile native. MSEG President Ari Rosenbaum has previously said Murphy High School has agreed to play its home games at the stadium.
MSEG has also made a $1.5 million investment in the holiday light shows hosted in the facility’s parking lots for Halloween and Christmas.
Danny Corte, executive director of the Mobile Sports Authority, said he has reserved one tournament in the stadium already and is looking to add more soon.
“It’s a good deal for us,” he said. “It’s a two-year job interview for MSEG. I have worked with them in the past and we’re excited to work with them again.”
The group’s long-term goal is to bring professional baseball back to the stadium, which is something a competing entity offered. A group led by Biloxi Shuckers co-owner Tim Bennett wanted to bring an Atlantic League baseball team to Hank Aaron Stadium. Bennett said he doesn’t view the council’s vote as a setback.
“The mayor and the council have to do what they feel is best for the city and we support that,” he said. “I’ve never been more motivated than I am today. I’m not giving up in any way, shape or form.
“Birmingham, Montgomery and Madison, which is near Huntsville; Biloxi and Pensacola now all have baseball teams,” he added. “There’s zero reason the home of Hank Aaron and Ozzie Smith doesn’t have a baseball team.”
Bennett said he supports MSEG and wants them to succeed because he feels that is what is best for Aaron’s legacy.
“We want to see the other team be successful,” he said. “Our goal is to bring baseball back to this area.”
Despite what happens with MSEG and the contract two years from now, city Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said having the agreement in place satisfies the ground lease and prevents the stadium from being demolished for at least four years.
In other business, the council approved new rules regarding the sale of city-owned property, despite entering into a debate during a pre-conference meeting over changing the word “may” to “shall” in the ordinance.
After Councilman Fred Richardson started the debate by requesting a “may” be changed to a “shall” in a section regarding the council’s review of property value, Councilman John Williams threatened to withhold unanimous consent, which, by council rules, would’ve forced the item to be held over for a week.
“I waived unanimous consent, but not at the price of having new things added at the last minute,” Williams said.
At issue for Richardson was the word “may,” which only gives the council an option to review documents related to how the administration determined a particular piece of property’s value. He asked the ordinance be amended to change the word to “shall,” which legally would require the council to act.
Deputy City Attorney Flo Kessler said “shall” was changed to “may” at the request of the council’s attorneys because in some cases property can be sold for the public good, which wouldn’t necessarily require a review of the appraisal or other documents pertaining to the property’s value.
Richardson also asked that a separate subsection be added to the ordinance that would give the council the option to require an appraisal before a sale is finalized.
“I want to make sure the council has the option to look at every available document to determine value,” he said. “So, residents see we’re working for them and not just giving property away.”
Kessler told councilors she didn’t see any harm in adding the requested subsection, but it was basically restating an earlier section in the ordinance.
In an apparent resolution to allow the item to pass on Tuesday, Richardson dropped his desire to change “may” to “shall” and only moved to have the separate subsection added as an amendment, which was unanimously approved.
The council also fast-tracked a “safety incentive” and voted to approve it on the first read Tuesday, Dec. 10. The incentive is paid out to public service employees who avoid on-the-job injuries or damage to equipment. In addition to moving the item forward, Council President Levon Manzie asked all councillors be added as sponsors on the item.
The council will hold its first committee meeting to discuss the formation of an affordable housing commission at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19, in the council conference room on the ninth floor of Government Plaza. The commission, as proposed by Manzie, would be made up of two appointments each from Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as one appointment each from Districts 5, 6 and 7. Senior Director of Housing and Community Development James Roberts and Mobile Housing Board Executive Director Michael Pierce would each serve as ex-officio members.
Councilwoman Bess Rich has already requested the number of appointees be the same for each district.
The council also moved to recommend to the Alabama Beverage Control board the issuance of a manufacturer’s license for Braided River Brewing downtown.
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