The owner of the Lancaster Barnstormers, enduring heavy losses, is asking Lancaster County to help pay its rent at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
But Lancaster Baseball LLC would repay the county for its contribution — $5.85 million over nine years — in full by 2034.
Lancaster Baseball LLC unveiled its plan Tuesday morning at a work session of the Lancaster County Commissioners.
No action was taken by the three commissioners, but none voiced support for the proposal.
Ian Ruzow, a partner in Lancaster Baseball LLC, said his group needs help because its annual rent of $1.1 million is too steep for the revenue the 650 N. Prince St. ballpark generates.
“The situation is unsustainable,” Ruzow told the board, noting that partners are losing more than $1 million a year.
Since he and his three partners assumed full ownership of the team in 2014, they have spent $3.5 million out of pocket to keep it operating, while “not taking one dollar in compensation,” he said.
Ruzow called the rent “way out of line” when compared to rents paid by the seven other teams in the Barnstormers’ league, the independent Atlantic League.
Those rents range from $1 a year paid by the team in Waldorf, Maryland, to $750,000 a year paid by the team on Long Island, New York — which draws fans from a market that’s triple the size of Lancaster, he said.
Ruzow said that even with the rent relief it’s seeking, the team would continue to operate at a loss.
But the red ink, he said, would be at “tolerable levels” for the partners — about $700,000 a year.
Asked what the partners would do if the county says no, Ruzow replied, “We’re looking for a positive outcome. Beyond that, I can’t really say.”
Under the proposal, Lancaster County would contribute $650,000 a year toward the rent for the nine years remaining on Lancaster Baseball LLC’s lease.
Lancaster Baseball LLC would pay the rest — $450,000 a year.
The rent goes to the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, which sold $13.4 million in bonds in 2004 to finance construction of the stadium.
The county commissioners guaranteed the bonds would be repaid.
Ruzow pointed out that the team and government officials who made those decisions about the financing, lease and bond guarantee are no longer in those posts.
The Barnstormers began playing in the stadium in 2005.
Lancaster Baseball LLC’s rent covers what the authority owes in annual interest and principal on the bonds.
The bonds will be repaid in full in 2025, when Lancaster Baseball LLC’s original lease runs out.
Then, to repay the county, Lancaster Baseball LLC would pick up two options on its lease, covering a total of nine more years.
During the extension, the partners would pay $450,000 a year back to the county.
At the same time, the partners’ rent to the authority would plunge to $80,000 a year, since the bonds would be repaid by then.
At the end of the nine years in extensions, Lancaster Baseball LLC would pay back the remaining $2 million of rent relief in a lump-sum payment.
“We’re not looking for a handout,” said Ruzow, a former owner and former executive of Clipper Magazine, as are his partners.
Ruzow emphasized the contributions that Lancaster Baseball LLC makes to the community.
This season, beside entertaining about 248,000 baseball fans at 66 home dates, hosting various events and helping dozens of charities with fundraisers, 486 people worked at the stadium, either for Lancaster Baseball LLC or the stadium’s food vendor, he said.
“There’s a lot more going on than just baseball being played,” said Ruzow.
To reinforce that point, Lancaster Baseball LLC brought seven business executives and educators to the work session to tell the commissioners how the baseball team’s presence benefits them.
Lauding the team’s impact were Peter Barber of Two Dudes Painting, John McGrann of Penn Stone, Lori Herr and John Thomas of The Hotel Lancaster, Heather Bowman of Orthopedic Associates of Lancaster, Dave Warren of Lancaster County Career and Technology Center, and Dave Proulx of Franklin and Marshall College.
The commissioners acknowledged the upside of Lancaster Baseball LLC’s operation, but raised numerous questions about the proposal.
They also emphasized that the county budget already is tight without adding an annual $650,000 expense.
Josh Parsons suggested that the authority refinance the bonds, a move that Lancaster Baseball LLC said would add $5 million to its expenses.
Parsons also requested an independent evaluation of Lancaster Baseball LLC’s financial records; Lancaster Baseball LLC attorney William Rhodes readily agreed to make its books available.
Craig Lehman asked how maintenance expenses would be funded under the lease.
Dennis Stuckey, chairman of the commissioners, asked if Lancaster Baseball LLC had exhausted other possible sources of financial relief before coming to the county. Ruzow said it had.
-- LNP Staff Writer Christopher Pratt contributed to this story.