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Council approves new Travs lease

Never say one vote can’t make a difference.

In the case of the Arkansas Travelers, it made the difference Monday night that their new lease agreement was approved by the North Little Rock City Council.

Mayor Joe Smith was the deciding vote for the approved lease.

Aldermen Debi Ross, Beth White and Linda Robinson voted against the agreement, while council members Steve Baxter, Bruce Foutch, Murry Witcher and Charlie Hight supported it. Alderman Maurice Taylor abstained.

A fifth vote was necessary for the measure’s passage.

The adopted agreement passed a few minutes after an amendment proposed by Ross would have removed some of the language of the agreement.

Ross was the most outspoken critic of the lease that eventually passed.

She strongly objected to one section, Article 7, Section 7.2, which gives the Arkansas Travelers more freedom to make more structural changes to city-owned Dickey-Stephens Park.

Section 7.2 reads, “The team may, within its sole discretion, make discretionary capital improvements.”

Ross said the park is owned by the citizens and taxpayers of North Little Rock and the Travelers should have some municipal oversight.

“This takes away any right we have about what they do to the park.” Ross said. “It is owned by the people of North Little Rock.”

Robinson expressed frustration that some members of council were not given a copy of the original 2007 lease at the Monday council meeting.

“We would have liked to have been able to compare this lease with the original lease,” Robinson said.

Witcher said the council has no business getting into the Travelers’ business.

“It doesn’t make sense that we would be involved in their day-to-day operation,” Witcher said.

Hight agreed with Witcher, adding, “I think anything the Arkansas Travelers do will be to draw more people to Dickey-Stephens Park.”

Smith said aldermen had the option to delay action until a more acceptable lease would be drafted.

Smith added that the city and Arkansas Travelers have had a good relationship promoting professional baseball in North Little Rock.

Robinson agreed with Ross’ argument that the city should have more say-so about potential capital improvement projects at the park.

“I agree with Ms. Ross, saying that the Travelers should not be in sole discretion of capital improvements,” Robinson said. “I don’t’ think that should be.”

Assistant City Attorney Matt Fleming said the new lease is a bit of an improvement over the former one because the city is guaranteed annual payments of $230,000 starting in 2015 through 2024, then the next two years drops to $115,000 annually.

In the former lease, the city was paid based on the percentage of profits.

Fleming said the former system gave the Arkansas Travelers much more discretion to show lower levels of profits, thereby leading the city to receiving less revenue.

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