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Joplin OKs financing plan for baseball team

- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - The Joplin City Council has chosen a $4 million financing package to lure an independent baseball team from El Paso, Texas.

The plan approved Monday by the council would require the city to take on $1.8 million in debt as its part of a project to renovate and improve Joe Becker Stadium, which would be the home of the former El Paso Diablos, The Joplin Globe reported (http://bit.ly/1lZnEYg ).

The city is negotiating with WLD Suarez Baseball, investors in the El Paso franchise from the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, which includes the Wichita Wingnuts and Kansas City T-Bones.

City Manager Mark Rohr said the $1.8 million in debt could be repaid by leasing the stadium to the baseball group for $150,000 a year, and the city could also borrow money specifically for stadium renovation.

Other aspects of the deal would require Joplin to sell land it owns next to the stadium to the Suarez group and use funds from a cellphone settlement, a surplus in the Convention and Visitors Bureau fund and the fund the city uses to pay its workers' compensation costs.

The proposal raised some concerns from the council.

"My major concern is that the Suarez group needs to demonstrate to us that they have the funds to do their part," Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg said.

He said the Suarez partners should be required to provide a letter of credit or some other proof that they have the money to cover their share of the investment. Rohr said city officials are working on a performance agreement between the city and the Suarez group that would include that information.

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Scearce said he is concerned whether Suarez can sustain professional baseball for 20 years, which is the term of the agreement.

Rohr estimated the city would realize the return of its $4 million investment in less than five years.

The council could take final action on the baseball proposal at its Feb. 18 meeting.

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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