Davenport’s city council may give the Quad-Cities River Bandits a full break on its ballpark rental agreement for 2019, after this year’s historic flooding restricted access to Modern Woodmen Park for most of the minor-league baseball season.
Davenport owns the park, originally called Municipal Stadium, and allows the team to have games there for about $273,000 per year. A lease agreement with team ownership offers a waiver for each game canceled whenever flooding prevents the team from playing on home field.
The flooding component of the lease has already automatically waived nearly $220,000 that would have been paid to the city this year. The proposal the city council is considering would waive the remaining $53,000.
The matter is scheduled to come up Wednesday night in City Hall. If aldermen advance the measure, the waiver could be decided upon by city officials as soon as next week.
The River Bandits team is run by Dave Heller, the president, CEO and majority owner, and co-owned by Republican Iowa Sen. Roby Smith of Davenport. Heller couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Heller did not immediately reply to a text message or phone call seeking comment late Tuesday. But in a May interview with the Quad-City Times, he said having a ballpark by the Mississippi River often “comes with a price," and this year’s flood created a particularly difficult situation.
"It has been really challenging, much more so than I could have envisioned, and financially, it has been crushing,” Heller said at the time. “You can’t prepare for something like this."
The team played its final home game on Monday to end the regular season. But a total of 19 earlier home games were canceled this year amid record-setting flooding that caused a flood barrier breach downtown, cost millions in recovery, caused widespread damage downtown and prompted some business owners to close shop for good.
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Before the barrier breached in late April, access to the ballpark was also limited by Canadian Pacific Railway’s unannounced project to raise its railroad tracks along the riverfront. One of the affected railroad-street intersections was the park’s main entrance at Gaines Street. Officials with the railroad have said the tracks needed to be permanently raised to keep freight traffic moving through the Midwest.
Money collected from the ballpark’s lease agreement goes right back toward improvement projects for the ballpark, said Brandon Wright, the city’s finance director. He said the city explored the possibility of getting a reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, but no outside grant funds are available to cover the $273,000 loss.
The waiver for the baseball team is being pushed by Alderman Mike Matson, 7th Ward, who is running for mayor, and Alderman Ray Ambrose, a longtime representative of the 4th Ward whose seat is being challenged during this year’s municipal election cycle.
Matson noted that other riverfront businesses in city-owned buildings were given a break on their lease agreements, too. He said given the circumstances, the full waiver is appropriate.
“We thought it was the fair thing to do,” Matson said.
Ambrose said a full waiver amounts to “embracing our local baseball team” and its ownership following a major hardship. He added that River Bandits owners and players have made great strides despite the issues at home.
“They stepped up to the plate,” Ambrose said, adding: “They suffered significant hardship with the weather, they also suffered it with the train debacle. So if they can’t have games we’re not going to charge them.”