Will Honkers get new ballpark lease?
Rochester's longest-standing sports franchise is close to signing a deal to keep the team at its downtown home for the next 10 years.
The Rochester Honkers , a founding member of the summer collegiate Northwoods League, is planning to play its 23rd season at Mayo Field in 2016. Before that can happen, the Honkers and the city of Rochester Parks and Recreation Department need to settle on a lease agreement.
The Honkers' lease of Mayo Field expired at the end of 2015, and representatives of the baseball club and the city have negotiated since September.
The result is a new, 10-year lease agreement starting at $17,500 in 2016 and increasing 4 percent annually through 2025 to $24,908. An automatic five-year renewal of the agreement occurs after the first five years.
The Rochester Board of Park Commissioners is scheduled to review the agreement in a meeting today .
Honkers general manager and co-owner Dan Litzinger said the negotiations process was not easy.
"When we first started, I tell you, we were miles apart," Litzinger said.
Northwoods League President Gary Hoover joined the negotiations with Rochester Park and Recreation Department Director Paul Widman and Park Department Forestry Division head Michael Nigbur.
Most important to the baseball club in the negotiations were the term of the lease and the annual lease fee for Mayo Field. The term had to be long enough to justify the club's past expenditures in the field — about $350,000 — and another $100,000 in facility improvements before the Honkers would agree to the new lease.
The club's monetary and in-kind contributions to the facility show a commitment to staying in Rochester, Litzinger said.
"Over our 22 years that we've been here, we've put over $350,000 into the field for improvements and things like that. That's a big commitment, and to do another $100,000 over 10 years, absolutely we want to stay here. This is a great city," Litzinger said.
From the city's perspective, the annual lease fee and agreement for facility improvements had to be enough to eliminate Park Department subsidies to the Honkers.
"For us, cost recovery was very important because the Honkers are a business, and we did not want to subsidize their operations at the stadium," Widman said. "We also wanted the Honkers to have a desire to stay in town and be a part of the activities that are offered here, so we had to come up with a few compromises to get to that point."
The new lease terms would cover the Honkers' costs and cut out city subsidies for operations within two years, Widman said.
The five-year term with an automatic five-year renewal was another important point for the city; the park department runs its maintenance operations from property on the same site as Mayo Field, and the department soon may outgrow the space available.
"We feel fairly confident we're going to be there at least five years, but after that, if we outgrow the space … we just wanted the flexibility at five years to move out if we needed to," Widman said.
Mayo Field was built in 1951; the first Honkers game was played there in 1994 with the founding of the Northwoods League.