Madison City Council divided over next steps with BallCorps

MADISON, Ala. - The Madison City Council took multiple steps Monday to move the minor league baseball multi-use venue project along. During the meeting, it became clear that there is some tension regarding the body's next steps with BallCorps, which owns the team.

The Lease, Licensing, and Management Agreement

The Rocket City Trash Pandas have been named for weeks, but BallCorps needed a city council vote to make it official.

Monday, the Madison City Council unanimously and quickly approved changing the Lease, Licensing, and Management agreement with BallCorps over how the stadium will be rented and run. This comes after a first reading last week, when the council hired a contractor to build the stadium.

The agreement, originally approved in January, is now changed in the following ways:

  • The council removed the provision that Madison had to be the prominent word in the team's name
  • BallCorps will pay 75% of the utility costs instead of 60%. Madison will pay 25% of the utility costs instead of 40%
  • Some land boundaries were defined differently than in the previous agreement

Before the vote, Bebe Oetjen spoke during public comments to explain how she felt about the Rocket City Trash Pandas. She explained that she is ironically happy not to see Madison in the team's name.

"I don't associate Madison with trash, and I am just as glad not to see that on any stickers, any sweatshirts, anything," she noted. "I appreciate you doing that. The only thing about it is that Madison citizens are paying for the ballpark. Not Rocket City."

We asked Mayor Paul Finley why he is ok with the name. He said his satisfaction lies with the amount of people who will embrace the team, from inside and outside Madison's city limits.

"We are a team player, and we want to see good things happen, that's why. Am I good with it? I love Madison, but understand why we made this decision," Finley said.

He commented about the utility rate change, "It is a big savings for the city. But that is not the driving force though, but I think the driving force was the numbers when people voted."

BallCorps Reimbursed

A vote to reimburse BallCorps for $371,844 in architecture fees divided the council, but eventually produced a 4-2 vote with Greg Shaw and Gerald Clark voting against.

Attorneys said BallCorps had originally started paying architects before the council had been able to pick up the tab to design the stadium. They said Monday that the council was obligated to pay BallCorps back as much of the total $462,000, as they could, to the extent that they would stay in budget.

Madison is dealing with a nearly $39 million stadium construction project, plus soft costs that include pre-construction and architecture. These costs must equal $46 million plus interest, and Mayor Paul Finley has said the city is committed to keeping the cost at that amount.

Finley said the council only paid $371,844 back to BallCorps Monday because that was the amount they could comfortably handle.

"I felt comfortable that that number was the most we could give, while still in essence having the control that we in the city want to do what we said we would do," he said.

But council members squabbled over the costs, some arguing to table it until they felt better about payment. They wanted assurance that BallCorps would play fair in their partnership before they fork over the cash.

"I know we have a little bit of back and forth to do, but we are married at this point and on the honeymoon," Council Member Teddy Powell said of BallCorps. "And if we are not getting along in the honeymoon, we have a long, sad marriage to go."

Others thought the payment was a good compromise.

"I guess I really don't know what to say to that. We're not going to agree on everything all the time. I don't care what type of relationship, you're not going to agree with everything everybody does all the time. But you're committed to each other, and you work through the issues," Council member Steve Smith said to continue Powell's metaphor. "I think this is taking that first step, finding middle ground to continue the productive relationship to get to our ultimate goal."

The biggest issue that council members were concerned with is staying under budget.

After the reimbursement passed, Finley commented, "Working together on the final pieces is the toughest because you then have to go down to dollars. Not tens of thousands of dollars. We promised our citizens we would stay within budget. We also promised BallCorps we would do certain things for them. We are getting as close as we can on both sides." While Finley remains confident in the stadium, the budget, and the partnership with BallCorps, he remains realistic about what has to happen now.

But Powell wasn't entirely convinced both sides would play nice right away: "If the other side does not come to the table, I will not vote for another dime," he stated.

John Seifert was quick to follow: "If we can't work as a team-- my votes are out too."

What's Next

The team as a whole still needs to work on value-engineering the stadium so that BallCorps, the city, and others get all the elements of the stadium that they want into the final design, but at a price the city can afford. That work is not yet complete.

Madison city leaders, BallCorps, architects, and construction managers will all come together this week at a big meeting. There, they will look at the elements they each want to see in the stadium design and decide how to compromise based on the limitations they face.

"This is where you now give and take," Finley said, commenting at the meeting that the process "isn't always pretty."

Finley tells us the city is committed to doing what it said it would do: stick to the budget.

"Whether you agree or disagree with this project or the name, what you hold us accountable to do is doing what we said we would do. And that's what we're doing right now," he said. "We are making sure we give as much as we can on the front end to get to the best overall project in the back-end. We will continue to work with BallCorps and the folks that help us get there."