New Dodd Stadium lease lowers rent, boosts other payments to Norwich

Norwich — The new 10-year lease between the city and Connecticut Tigers lowers annual rent payments to the city but restructured utilities and police costs should make up for the loss, City Manager John Salomone said Thursday.

The lease between the city and Oneonta Athletic Corp. for the minor league baseball team’s use of the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium runs from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2029. The Tigers have two options for five-year extensions, which could take the agreement to Dec. 31, 2039.

The team also has early termination options starting after the 2025 baseball season that would require termination payments to the city.

The lease was signed by Salomone and Oneonta Athletic Corp. President E. Miles Prentice on Aug. 1 — before a recent controversy surfaced over Prentice’s role as board chairman of the Washington, D.C., right-wing think tank Center for Security Policy, which promotes anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.

On Monday, local religious leaders had asked the City Council to place language in the lease ensuring that no ethnic or religious discrimination would be tolerated at Dodd Stadium.

City and team officials negotiated the new lease terms in March and the City Council approved it April 15, but the parties had to wait for Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball to approve it before signing the lease.

From 2020 through 2022, the Tigers will pay the city $90,000 per year in rent divided into five installments from June 30 through Oct. 31. The rent price increases by $1,000 per year to $97,000 in the final year of 2029.

If the Tigers exercise the extension option without renegotiating terms, the team would pay $100,000 in 2030, and the payments would increase by $3,000 per year for the next four years. The same $3,000 annual increase would be in place for the following five years under the second extension option.

The current lease, which expires Dec. 31 of this year, called for payments starting at $100,000 in 2010, increasing to $120,000 this year, but called for discounts for police coverage during games and to the Norwich Fire Department for public safety and traffic control services.

The new lease calls for the city and team to split police and fire costs evenly, and for the team to pay full police coverage costs for stadium events other than baseball games, such as the Northeast Wrestling event last Saturday.

The team will pay a set price for utilities, $60,000 for the first three years, and the city would pay any cost in excess of the set fee. New LED stadium lights installed this spring are expected to greatly reduce electricity costs, and when the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are upgraded after the season ends, additional utility savings are expected, Salomone said.

"It kind of washes out," Salomone said. "Some of the provisions lowering some of the costs of the contributions (by the city) make it competitive with the previous agreement."

If the two parties sell naming rights to the field or yard, revenues would be split, with 70 percent going to the team and 30 percent to the city for the first three years of the naming agreement, dropping to 60 percent for the team and 40 percent for the city afterward.

The lease does not address the team name or the city’s plan to replace the failing HVAC system and extend protective netting along the two dugouts.

The Tigers proposed renaming the team to add “Norwich” in the moniker, and received 650 submissions in a naming contest this spring. Tigers Senior Vice President C.J. Knudsen said Thursday the Tigers expect to announce the new team name “in the November timeframe" after clearing it of potential copyright or trademark conflicts.

A portion of the team’s rent payments will be designated for future stadium improvements, Salomone said, which will help cover expenses when major capital improvements are needed to the 25-year-old stadium. The city already has approved funding for the HVAC system and to extend the protective netting to the ends of each dugout.

Mayor Peter Nystrom said the lease terms will help provide revenue sources for the stadium and allow the city to expedite improvements.

“I think the public clearly supports having baseball here,” Nystrom said. “It’s a communitywide quality of life issue for young and old, It’s fun. Baseball is fun.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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