Team owes $50k

NASHUA – The chairman of the group Boston Baseball All-Stars LLC, owners of the local independent minor league baseball franchise the American Defenders of New Hampshire, said Thursday his team’s delinquent $50,000 rent to the city is “an obligation we intend to meet.”

Buddy Lewis, who said the team will definitely finish out the season at Holman Stadium, met with Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau on Thursday. It was a meeting that both say was scheduled far in advance to talk about the operation of the team under new president Dan Duquette, and the rent issue was addressed.

“We’re actually in the process of working out an arrangement with the city,” Lewis said. “It’s a work in process. I wouldn’t even call it negotiations. They (city officials) understand we virtually had no revenue in June.”

The problem, Lewis said, stemmed mainly from ownership’s misunderstanding of the terms of the lease, which call for a balloon payment all at once. Lewis said the group thought that if the team did not acquire funds for naming rights to the stadium that totaled more than the rent, that it would be able to make the payment in installments.

But they discovered, through communication with the city that that is not what the lease calls for. Lewis said the group examined all aspects of the lease before it was signed last fall.

“Somehow that slipped by us,” said Lewis, who also expressed disappointment in the community for not supporting the team. “That’s entirely our fault.”

Lozeau said it’s her understanding that the team will deliver at least a partial rent payment to the city treasurer’s office by Monday. She was first asked about the rent at a Board of Public Works meeting earlier this week, and the city treasurer’s office sent a formal letter to the team informing them of the delinquency. But, she added, she won’t bow to pressure to lock the club out – as former Mayor Don Davidson did back in 1996 to the ill-fated Nashua Hawks – and get nothing for the nights the stadium has already been using.

“There’s a lot of dedicated people involved, and season-ticket holders,” Lozeau said on Wednesday. “Plus, what does that say about the city of Nashua? Does it benefit anybody to do that? I don’t see that it does. There’s the bond that still has to be paid for what we did several years ago (renovating the stadium in 2002 with luxury suites, etc.).”

And Thursday she added, “I think the city should do everything it can to keep a professional baseball team in (Holman Stadium) if it won’t cost the city to do it. I think a team will stay if it can break even in the long term.”

Lewis did not shy away from the financial issues the team is facing. However, he would not elaborate on the resignation of concessionaire Mark Dudley.

Dudley, who was acting as an employee of the club but also owns and operates Dudley’s Concessions, has been popular in the city for several years, servicing events at Stellos Stadium, Holman Stadium and other locales. He claims the team owes him approximately $15,000. Dudley claims that he hasn’t been paid since May, when he broached an initial issue of nonpayment with Lewis. He left, taking some 15-18 pieces of equipment – including his ice cream and the popular fried dough cart – with him.

Dudley said he had a business arrangement with the team for being able to run the carts at the stadium, but said he was acting as an employee in running the concession stands in right field and behind home plate. The team is running concessions on their own, Lewis said, but also made an arrangement with Ed Canto, who runs the Sausage King stand down the left field line, to sell additional items.

Dudley says he owes the team money for the use of the carts but that the club “owes me more than I owe them.” He has also given advice to those running the concessions since he left, but he added he could no longer stay on as an employee, and may be seeking recourse to retrieve lost wages.

“I have to make a living,” he said. “You can only go so long . . . I don’t understand the issue. I believe it is a law to pay your employees.”

In addressing nonpayment to Dudley, Lewis said, “That’s not entirely true. That part we shouldn’t get into. That’s between Mark and the organization.”

Then he added: “We had to do something. Attendance has been lagging.” But, he noted, Dudley did leave on his own accord.

Amid rumors of past payroll problems, Lewis was asked if payroll would be met this week. “Yes it will,” he said.

Lewis said the club will stay the course for the season that ends on Labor Day, despite heading into Thursday night’s game averaging a league-worst 1,129 fans a game over 19 of the scheduled home dates. That is down more than 400 from a year ago.

Lewis said when the club bought the franchise in September from local developer John Stabile that “our eyes were wide open” and that Stabile was very open and honest about the hurdles of succeeding with a professional franchise in the city. Lewis also said that others in the industry warned the group that “keeping the team in Nashua would be a huge mistake.”

But Lewis said with the franchise’s connection to the U.S. Military All-Star teams that the group also owns, that “our model would be totally different” and would receive support from other factions.

“We were totally wrong,” he said. “The weather hasn’t been good, to be fair. But there are other things that are very disconcerting.”

Lewis mentioned that on the night of the July 4 fireworks the team handed out 4,000 “buy one, get one free ticket” vouchers for Sunday the fifth but only 13 people took advantage. He also mentioned that the Nashua Chamber of Commerce allegedly held its annual outing as a group at the home of the American Defenders’ chief business rival, the Major League Baseball-affiliated New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester.

“What’s up with that?” Lewis said, adding he felt the team would be able to convince companies to come in groups of 500 or 600.

“The business community has been relatively cold,” he said, referring to attendance, not so much sponsorship. “Things are tough for businesses in this economy, we know that. But it’s also because of the economy that this is a great place to come (because of low ticket prices).

“I don’t think we’ve got any choice but to finish the season in Nashua. We’re not going to fold. We’ve got an eight-game homestand, and we’re going to watch this very closely. As a business we have to sit down and figure out how to make this work.”

Lewis said the meeting with Lozeau was positive in nature and she offered some suggestions, including calling companies to have them try out the luxury suites or attend games on a complementary basis with the hopes they will return.

“It will be nice (weather) in the next couple of weeks,” Lewis said. “We’ve shown our support to the community (through special events and player public appearances, etc.). I don’t know what else we can do.”