New group wants a team downtown

Published: Wednesday, February 4, 1998
Page: 1A
By Laura A. Bischoff Dayton Daily News

Downtown Dayton is back in the running to land a minor league baseball team for the 1999 season.

In a surprise announcement Tuesday, Dayton officials said a California-based sports-and-entertainment group is teaming up with two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin to bring a Class A Midwest League team here.

A competing investment group trying to bring a team to Trotwood, however, said it would fight Dayton's efforts.

The new downtown group, Mandalay Sports Entertainment of Los Angeles, plans to buy the Dayton Professional Baseball Club corporation from Sherrie Myers and move the Class A Rockford (Ill.) Cubbies to Dayton.

Myers had an exclusive deal with Dayton to bring a team here and got minor league approval - both from the Midwest League and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the minor leagues' governing body . But Myers was unable to get Major League Baseball's OK because her husband owns another team in the Midwest League and baseball rules prohibit dual ownership.

Now, Dayton's agreement with Myers will transfer to Mandalay and Dayton once again plans to build a $22.7 million stadium on East First Street near River Corridor Drive, City Manager Valerie Lemmie said. Myers will step out of the deal.

Hank Stickney, Mandalay's chief executive officer, said the chances of Major League Baseball approval are "excellent" and that he has the connections needed to put the application on a fast track. City officials said they expect Major League approval within 60 days, but Stickney predicted it would be sooner.

Mandalay Sports Entertainment produces movies and owns three baseball teams, including the AAA Las Vegas Stars, among other sports enterprises. Peter Guber, former chairman of Sony Pictures, is a partner in the group. Stickney is on the board of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.

Griffin, associate athletics director at Ohio State University and the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, will be a minority owner in the club.

"He is going to be our ambassador to Dayton," said Stickney, who said the percentage of local ownership has not been determined.

Griffin said Tuesday he has known the Stickney family for quite a long time.

"I know the Stickneys very well," he said. "I talked to them awhile back. They kept saying maybe some time we can do something. And Dayton is about as close as you can get."

The Stickney family endowed the tennis center at Ohio State. Stickney, who now lives in the Los Angeles area, grew up in Cleveland and spent three years stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the late 1960s.

Dayton's new deal means Mandalay and Sports Spectrum Inc., the investors in the Trotwood team, will compete for the one affiliated professional team that will be allowed in the Miami Valley.

Trotwood officials are holding fast to their plan.

"We still feel very confident that we have the better deal in terms of the public-private financing blend. We also see our location as being attractive," said Anna Taylor-Clarke, acting Trotwood city manager. Sports Spectrum plans to build an $11.4 million stadium next to Hara Arena, but has yet to get Midwest League approval to buy a team or move it to Trotwood.

The Midwest League has said it will not consider moving a team to Trotwood as long as Myers' deal is still pending. League officials could not be reached Tuesday.

"Our deal hasn't changed. I hope these people have the best lawyers on the face of the earth," said Sports Spectrum vice president Rich Ehrenreich. If this blocks Trotwood's project "the only games being played in Dayton will be in court."

Ehrenreich's group stepped into the game in November when Myers announced she would withdraw from the project since she failed to get Major League approval.

Sports Spectrum landed an exclusive territorial waiver from the Cincinnati Reds allowing them to be the only group pursing a team for the Miami Valley. But Myers never formally withdrew her applications. She said on Tuesday that Sports Spectrum's exclusive waiver expired Jan. 26.

Stickney said Reds managing executive John Allen told him the Reds will work with the first team to get Major League approval. "I like that kind of contest," Stickney said.

He said he does not need to get new approval from the Midwest League because the league already approved the request from the Dayton Professional Baseball Club.

Ehrenreich disagrees. "It's a whole new deal. They have to start over," Ehrenreich said.

Lemmie said the city will close on the land purchase for the stadium site in March and that architectural plans are 95 percent complete. So far, Dayton has put about $1 million into the project, which officials describe as an anchor to downtown's riverfront redevelopment.

Mandalay Sports agreed to cover any stadium costs over the $22.7 million budget and will contribute $5 million up front toward stadium construction, Lemmie said. Dayton will continue to try to get state and county funding to go along with federal transportation money and a Montgomery County Economic Development/Government Equity grant, Lemmie said.

Meanwhile, residents from the neighborhood surrounding the proposed stadium at Hara Arena said they are not prepared to relax in the wake of Tuesday's announcement.

Greg Caras, spokesman for Citizens Against Baseball, said the group of Trotwood and Harrison Twp. residents retained an attorney and plan to go forward.

"It's still in the air," he said. "We've heard this before. It's a political situation and we are stuck in the middle."

Harvey Tuck, a Harrison Twp. resident, said he believes it better serves the city of Dayton. "We're talking about an entire region here, once anchored by the downtown area," he said. "We need baseball downtown on the river and Trotwood needs to recognize they are part of a region."

In the meantime, Johnny Walker, president of the Hara Arena Conference and Exhibition Center, issued a press release saying that a group in support of minor league baseball in Trotwood passed a petition among neighbors near the proposed stadium site. The petition contains more than 1,000 names, he said. The group plans to forward the petitions to Ehrenreich and Midwest League officials.

* STAFF WRITERS Marc Katz and David Kepple contributed to this report.

* CONTACT Laura A. Bischoff at 225-2446 or e-mail her at

Sherrie Myers announced Tuesday that Hank Stickney (back) and his group have purchased her company and intend to operate a Class A Midwest League baseball team in Dayton in 1999.

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