Striking Out

Reid Ryan embarked on a new career as a team owner facing one big obstacle: voter approval of a new stadium. Then he called in a campaigner with the perfect pitch: a father named Nolan.

Lease negotiations continued through January 14 and will be voted on next week. The 20-year agreement would require the team to contribute $6 million toward a $15-million stadium that the city will own outright. The city would issue $9 million in bonds to be paid back over time through the 7-percent hotel-motel tax and rent that the team will pay the city over the life of the lease.

Under the proposed agreement, the team incurs all expenses related to maintenance and operations of the stadium, including utilities and security. But it also gets to pocket the millions of dollars in concessions and parking profits, even for nonbaseball events such as stadium concerts.

In effect, the city will make no money off the stadium. But it shouldn't lose any either. The team will pay the city $1.725 million in rent over 20 years, with all but $225,000 of it being paid in the first five years. (For the last 15 years, rent is a mere $15,000 annually.) The city, however, must use the rent money to help pay off bondholders instead of spending it on city services. As city officials see it, the fact that only the team benefits if the stadium makes money is outweighed by the city's being protected if the stadium loses money. And they love the intangible economic benefits of the stadium, which should be a magnet for new commercial development and the tax revenue that comes with it.

The Ryans love the stadium's magnetic appeal, too, since they stand to benefit directly from it. After the election, the Ryans announced they were purchasing from the city a 48-acre tract adjacent to the future stadium. City officials had said the tract would be used to expand a city park but now say their previous pronouncement was in error. Nothing more than a cornfield today, the Ryans' land investment almost undoubtedly will escalate in value as the stadium becomes surrounded by suburbanesque strip malls.

The city is responsible for paying for future stadium upgrades, such as a new scoreboard, but municipal officials think corporate sponsors will defray those kinds of costs. Overall, city officials are pleased with the lease. They point to a study by consultant KPMG Peat Marwick, which concludes that the Ryan group's investment in the stadium exceeds what other Double-A baseball team owners pour into similar projects. Reid Ryan, of course, agrees with those assessments. But as he roosts inside the offices of the team he hatched, he becomes defensive as he contemplates a question about whether the deal also is very good for the Ryans.

"Are we going to have a chance to make money off this project? Yes, we are, if we run our business right," he says. "But we're also having to put in several millions of dollars that we are giving to the city of Round Rock to build a facility that they are going to own."

Then, Reid Ryan compares the deal to a tenant helping a landlord pay for building an apartment that the tenant has to pay rent on for 20 years. He sounds like a team owner with experience far beyond his years.

The election now over, Nolan Ryan has withdrawn behind the scenes. (He did not return phone calls for this story from the Houston Press.) He lets his son call the shots, although the two chat at least every other day. The younger Ryan has surrounded himself with an experienced team. It includes Jay Miller, who left his job as general manager of the Astros' Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans to assume the same post with the Express. The architect for the new stadium is the same firm that designed the majestic Ballpark in Arlington. The publicity campaign for season tickets has yet to begin, and the team already has sold about 1,200 full-season and 500 half-season packages.

At long last, Reid Ryan is playing in the big leagues. And winning.
"This really is my deal to run," he says, as if he's been trying to convince people of something similar his entire life.

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