Biloxi decides baseball risk worth possible rewards

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The risk will be worth the reward was the message from the Biloxi City Council. Tuesday, council members okayed several key measures needed to make building a $36 million baseball stadium a reality. At a special meeting, the council approved borrowing $21 million in general obligation bonds. The council also approved accepting $15 million from the state, which is the money  Governor Phil Bryant promised to the project when it was announced last May. The council also approved an agreement to lease the land for the stadium from Beau Rivage.

Baseball supporters cheered after the votes knowing Biloxi's coming up to bat in the world of minor league baseball. As in any game, city leaders know there's a chance to lose and council members  weighed all the possibilities.

Most of the council members are convinced Biloxi has a lot to gain in the way of economic development and tourism. And they all agree the plan is ambitious with a tight timetable to get this stadium ready for the 2015 season.

"It's an opportunity. It has risks, but it has rewards, potential rewards," said Council Member Kenny Glavan.

Council Member George Lawrence said, "If it works out, greatest thing in the world. But if not, it's the responsibility of the taxpayers."

With a state grant and bonds, Biloxi needs to build a stadium, parking garage, and overpass walkway and do it within a $36 million budget.

"We've already been advised it's going to be $38 million or more," said Council Member David Fayard said. "Where is this additional $2 million coming from? We need to know that. We have to fund this thing."

Council Member Paul Tisdale said, "It's stated numerous times in the ground lease and stadium sublease contracts that the stadium, parking garage, and pedestrian bridge are to be built at a cost not to exceed $36 million. The cost estimate for the project before the construction bids have been received, we've been told, is about $38 million with a projection completion date for the first week in May. The real numbers won't be known until the bids start rolling in about four weeks from now."

The expected completion date for the new stadium as the first week in May 2015 is also an issue. The lease agreement says the stadium must be game ready by mid-April or Biloxi will have to pay up.

"There are penalties of $10,000 for every home game missed after roughly the middle of April," said Tisdale. "So we might likely pay some penalties. I'm expecting that. I hope not, but I'm sort of expecting that because it's a very courageous timeline."

Despite some lingering concerns, the council voted to move forward. It was a great relief for Tim Bennett whose company worked for a decade to bring baseball to Biloxi.

"I appreciate their concerns. They were elected to look out for the taxpayers," Bennett said. "There's a risk in everything we do. There was a risk in me going to work for 10 years for the city of Biloxi to bring a baseball team and stadium to a city that never had that before. So fortunately the risk for me has paid off and I look forward to the risk for the city paying off and satisfying all the concerns that the council members have."

"There are inherent risks in any economic venture. I think this is just a great opportunity for Biloxi," Tisdale said. "I think it can do a lot of the economic climate. I think if you're going to dream, dream big, work hard and all things are possible."

During the meeting, Councilman Glavan question Beau Rivage President George Corchis about whether his company would be willing to step up to the plate should the project run over budget.

"I just want to ask you the question if we run into that situation is the Beau going to work with us to share any additional burden that we may incur on trying to get this development the right way?" asked Glavan.

Corchis responded, "We are partners with you. We're working very hard. We have all our resources on this project and we're going to build something together that's your project that's within the budget."

Some council members wanted to address rumors circulating of corruption and possible conflicts of interest surrounding the baseball deal. The council questioned attorney Ron Peresich who said more than a dozen attorneys representing various interests either have or will review the bond documents.

"No one thinks there's anything illegal or unethical about any of these documents. And I don't either," said Peresich.

When asked if he was aware of anyone receiving compensation that was unlawful or unethical, Peresich said, "No. Absolutely not. We've said many times in this room. You're always going to approve all the contracts. And if you haven't approved the contract, then it doesn't exist."

Council Member Dixie Newman said she is skeptical of the rumors.

"I do not believe that there is corruption going on and that's not what we're voting on today anyway," said Newman. "If there is corruption going on, they will find it and they will get in trouble. But what we're voting on today is progress or no progress."

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