By Steve Mocarsky firstname.lastname@example.orgStaff Writer SCRANTON – A South Abington Township ophthalmologist has proposed that the Lackawanna County Stadium Authority sell the management rights to the /Wilkes-Barre Yankees to his groupof local investors for $15 million.
Dr. Steven Vale told the authority board Wednesday he represents a group of businesspeople in the community who want to make sure the team never leaves the area.“We think the way to do that is by purchasing the management rights to the team. That way, the team is still owned locally and doesn’t leave the area. We think it’s frankly a very good investment just from management perspect perspective because there’s plenty of money to be made if the team is run properly, Vale said.
Lackawanna County officials have a tentative agreement to sell the franchise to the Yankees and Mandalay Baseball Properties, which manages the franchise,for $14.6 million.
The authority would use the sale proceeds as a local share towards a $58 million to $62 million project to rebuild PNC Field. The state pledged $20 million and the Yankees would contribute the remainder.
Luzerne County is in a legal dispute with Lackawanna County over the deal because Luzerne County contributed $1million towards buying the franchise over two decades ago and, according to an agreement, is entitled to half the proceeds if the franchise is sold.
Lackawanna County officials don’t think Luzerne County is entitled to any proceeds. Attorney John McGee, a former authority board member and past authority solicitor, said Vale’s proposal would take care of that problem. McGee outlined Vale’s plan. He said the authority would turn over management rights to a non-profit organization that would be formed specifically for that purpose,and the non-profit could sell the management rights to the investors. The entity could consist of 17members – two members appointed by Lackawanna County, two appointed by Luzerne County, and 13 members of the public, who would serve with term limits. Those individuals at large could be initially selected from acommittee to be chaired by local college presidents, McGee said.“This community organization… would receive no funds from the operation of the baseball franchise because those monies would be generated and retained by the company that buys the management rights,” McGee said. “The stadium authority under this proposal would transfer the naked title of the franchise to the community organization and it would stipulate in the transfer agreement that any sale of the franchise in the future would have to be approved by the stadium authority, by the counties of Lackawanna and Luzerne and by the non-profit organization.” McGee believes the authority could have the current management agreement with Mandalay voided because the Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre Yankees had no right to extend the management contract by renewing the player development contract with the New York Yankees. “This and other claims will allow you to void the option agreement,” McGee said, and recommended that the authority enter mediation on the issue .McGee also recommended the board ask Lackawanna County commissioners to do short-term borrowing to fund the start of stadium rebuilding until the contract with Mandalay is voidedand the investors can step in. He said even if the authority lost in mediation it could still sell the franchise. Authority Chairman James Timlin said he likes the idea of retaining local control of the franchise and also believes the management contract heavily favors Mandalay and the Yankees. Still, he wouldn’t commit support to the proposal until he had “time to digest it.” Luzerne County commissioners previously said they opposed selling the franchise/ Luzerne County Commissioner Steve Urban said he favors keeping the franchise in the area,but wants to hear how the plan could benefit Luzerne County citizens other than keeping professional baseball in the region. Efforts to reach Lackawanna County commissioners Mike Washo and Corey O’Brien on Wednesday night were unsuccessful. Vale said another benefit of the proposal is that it would correct some problems with current management. “The New York Yankees really haven’t run the team very well with their Mandalay Partners. They have come on the scene and we’ve seen declining attendance. We’ve seen historic traditions of theYankees kind of being thrown out. They took down the donor wall, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre symbol went out the door,” Vale said.
“People think that our team has a tradition and they felt like they had an ownership role in it.I think the Yankees and Mandalay deprived us of that and I think we need to restore that,” Vale said