Commissioners Back Plan to Bring Baseball to Area

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Washoe County commissioners approved a preliminary agreement Tuesday night aimed at bringing Triple A minor league baseball to a new stadium in Sparks by 2006.

The commissioners also unanimously approved a 2 percent tax on most car rentals to help pay for a proposed $25 million stadium with a capacity up to 10,000 at the Sparks Marina on U.S. Interstate 80.

More than 200 backers of the plan packed the county commission chambers to urge their support for the effort to bring a major league-affiliated minor league team to the Reno-Sparks area for the first time since the Reno Silver Sox left in 1992.

Pacific Coast League President Branch W. Rickey attended to express the 102-year-old league's backing of the project bordering the marina with a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada. He earlier pledged to help find an existing or future PCL team willing to relocate to northern Nevada for the 2006 season.

"We are in the midst of really a renaissance, a growth in interest and attendance that is unprecedented in our league," Rickey told the commission.

"If you build it well and you make a statement out of it, they will come from a long way around," he said.

The commissioners approved the tentative agreement and the car rental surcharge on 5-0 votes after leaders of the Sierra Nevada Baseball group assured them the county won't be left with the bill if the effort fails.

"You will not ever be asked to bail out the project," said Bruce Breslow, former mayor of Sparks and a leader of the effort.

In the works for more than two years, the county's action on the stadium is the most significant to date, Breslow said, because "all the financial markets were waiting for an indication our community was willing to step forward with its support."

"We got that tonight," he told The Associated Press.

The Nevada Legislature and Sparks City Council earlier approved the 2 percent surcharge on car rentals, expected to raise more than $1 million a year to finance revenue bonds for the stadium. County residents who rent a vehicle while their own is being repaired would be exempt from the tax.

"We're always looking for a tax that other folks pay," Commissioner David Humke said.

Preliminary plans call for 6,500 stadium seats, 1,500 seats in suites and sky boxes and another 2,000 capacity on a grass burm beyond the outfield fence similar to the one where the PCL's Sacramento Rivercats play.

County commissioners postponed a vote on a contract with HOK Architects Inc. of Nevada to prepare preliminary design and construction cost estimates to confirm the project is affordable. But they said they do intend to hire that firm, affiliated with the Kansas City-based HOK Sport-Venue-Event, which designed new stadiums for the Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants.

"You have a wonderful opportunity to create a ballpark that has a dramatic backdrop with the mountains here," said Bruce Miller, HOK's director of minor league baseball.

Under the preliminary agreement, Sierra Nevada Baseball must sell 50 percent of the sky boxes before the bonds can be issued. The revenue bonds carry no specific obligation to the county, the group said.

"I hope those of you who've enthusiastically said this is important to you will show your support by purchasing season tickets," Commissioner Jim Galloway told the crowd Tuesday night.

Galloway and other commissioners have raised concerns about the county's financial liability, but offered their backing after county staff explained there are "10 or 15 escape hatches" in the deal.

"There was a day when there were some issues but I don't think there are any longer," Commissioner Pete Sferrazza said.

"I get the impression there's enough safeguards and safety nets," Commission Chairman Jim Shaw said.

State Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, said all 11 of the state legislators who represent parts of Washoe County, Reno and Sparks were united in support of the stadium.

"To get 11 people to agree to anything was a small miracle by itself," he said.

The Sierra Nevada Baseball group gave free T-shirts to the first 150 people who showed up to voice their support for the stadium.

"We ran out an hour before the meeting started," said Breslow, who estimates the stadium likely will cost between $22 million and $27 million with additional architectural and other costs totaling another $5 million.

The Reno Chukars and BlackJacks played at the old Moana Stadium from 1996-99 but were in the independent Western Baseball League with no major league affiliation.