MANCHESTER, N.H. – Businesses across New Hampshire have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats are no exception. However, the jury is still out on whether the Fisher Cats can receive some relief regarding money it owes to the city of Manchester.
During their meeting on Tuesday night, the Manchester Board of Aldermen voted 12-2 to table any decision on the matter, with At-Large Aldermen Dan O’Neil and Joseph Kelly Levasseur voting in opposition.
The move came in large part due to an announcement from Fisher Cats Owner Art Solomon indicating that he is seeking a grant from Governor Chris Sununu’s Main Street Relief Fund.
Solomon told the board that he had taken out a loan to pay the $465,000 the team owes the city this month and is asking to pay approximately 50-60 percent of what the team owes next year, due to the fact that it has lost a significant amount of revenue so far with cancelled games this year and could lose even more if the season is cancelled outright. He estimated that the team is projected to lose approximately $2 million this year.
Solomon added that unlike most local businesses, his team does not hold the decision to re-open on their own, and instead is beholden to the decisions of Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball.
However, Solomon added that if the team was awarded the grant, the request may not be necessary.
This seemed to come as a surprise to the aldermen, who had been given a significant amount of information regarding negotiations between the city and the team that were discussed among the aldermen in non-public session that appeared to indicate the team would be forgiven from some portion of their debt to the city.
Before Solomon made his announcement, Ward 8 Alderman Michael Porter praised the Fisher Cats but also said he could not support relief of the team’s debt, citing struggles faced by many other businesses across the city.
He also noted that initially city taxpayers had to pay approximately $7.2 million more than expected on bond repayment for the stadium due to $40 million of new assessed property value not realized thanks to the Great Recession.
Porter supported the request to table after learning of Solomon’s announcement that he would seek the grant, but Levasseur echoed Porter’s concerns of the city not helping one business over another in the past.
On Tuesday, Levasseur expressed concern over the lateness of the team’s request and the impending June 9 deadline on a decision for the city’s budget and the impact made if the Fisher Cats are unable to somehow unable to pay what they owe this year.
O’Neil’s opposition appeared to come a position of support for the team whether they can obtain the grant money or not, citing the work they have done to help New Hampshire non-profit organizations as well as studies done in their impact to the local economy.
According to Solomon, the team employs approximately 30 people year-round and normally employs around 100 people during the summer, stating that many come from Manchester.
The team does not pay the players themselves, with those salaries coming from the Fisher Cats’ parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Last year, the Blue Jays gave all of their minor league players a raise, and Major League Baseball paid for part of their salaries up to May 31, with the Blue Jays agreeing to pay for extensions of those partial salaries until the end of June while also releasing over two dozen players.