Norwich moves closer to regaining minor league baseball team

Norwich - The city took a step closer to filling Dodd Stadium this summer with an as-yet-unnamed minor league baseball team from the New York-Penn League.

The Norwich Baseball Stadium Authority unanimously approved a letter of intent Monday with the New York-Penn League that would bring one of the 14 teams from the short-season Class A league to Dodd Stadium for 10 years.

League president Ben Hayes has the authority to decide which franchise will be allowed to negotiate with Norwich, but that team has not been identified. Hayes could not be reached for comment Monday night.

Norwich lost the Class AA Connecticut Defenders to Richmond, Va., at the end of the 2009 season, ending 15 years of Double-A baseball in Norwich.

The letter of intent outlines parameters of a lease agreement, but a formal lease still would have to be negotiated between the team and city officials. The proposal approved Monday would give the team three five-year renewal options following the initial 10-year period, but also would include an early termination clause starting at the end of the 2014 baseball season with financial penalties.

"This letter sets the terms and conditions under which the undersigned New York-Pennsylvania Professional Baseball League, Inc. is willing to present one of its member clubs as a basis for entering into a stadium lease agreement with the city of Norwich," the letter of intent stated.

Lease payments outlined in the letter of intent for the 6,000-seat stadium would start at $100,000 this year and would rise to $120,000 at the end of the 10-year period. Lease payments could end as high as $165,000 in 2034 if all renewal options are exercised.

The City Council reviewed the letter of intent later Monday in a closed-door session, but did not have to approve the document, City Manager Alan Bergren said. City Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said the City Council would have to approve a formal lease with a new team.

Driscoll said Monday's closed-door session with the council was scheduled to allow aldermen to review the proposed terms and express their opinions on whether they would want to see changes in a formal lease.

Stadium Authority members were enthusiastic about the letter of intent, which was negotiated by Jewell, authority treasurer Peter Maneri and member Gary Schnip, who oversees stadium operations for the authority.

Jewell said the rent payments are lower than with the Defenders - who paid $140,000 last year - because there are fewer games, 38 for the New York-Penn League to the 71 played by the Defenders.

But the team would pay for utilities under the proposal. "That's huge," Jewell said. It also calls for the team to pay for security during games. The team would decide whether to charge for parking.

Authority member Tony Orsini said because the new team would start in mid-June rather than early April, the stadium would be available more for local college and high school games in early spring.

The lease would give the new team total control of the stadium during the time period covered by the lease, so the team would be in charge of arranging other events, including college or high school baseball games at Dodd Stadium.

Authority member Harry Jackson, a long-time season ticket holder to the former Norwich Navigators and Connecticut Defenders, said the New York-Penn League makes sense for Norwich, because games in April and May were sparsely attended in cold, wet weather.

"I feel very, very positive about this," Jewell said.

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