Joplin's city manager says a multi-million dollar baseball stadium is now without a tenant. The Joplin Blasters missed a deadline yesterday to pay the city $15,000 to use Joe Becker Stadium.
What this means for the team, though, appears to depend on which city official describes the situation.
Blasters' team owners appear to have stopped direct communications with the city. Last week, Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm sent a letter to the Blasters' Gabe Suarez, formally letting Suarez know he was late paying this month's rent.
"I did receive an e-mail back that asked for all future communications to go towards their attorney," says Anselm.
Anselm says Suarez included nothing else in that e-mail; No details of if the late payment was eventually going to be paid, or if the Blasters were planning on returning next season.
Anselm believes the Blasters are no longer tenants of Joe Becker Stadium.
"At this point, they are in default, or in breach, of the contract," says Anselm.
But Joplin Mayor Mike Seibert is still hopeful the team will come through with promises to the city.
"We have a contract with them. If they are current with their contract, the expectation is that they come back to Joplin next year. So, we're really in a holding pattern until we get that official word from them." says Seibert.
Seibert says he wasn't taken back by the Blasters' missed rent payment.
"I don't know that I was surprised," says Seibert.
But Seibert and Anselm both agree that the lease agreed to by both the Blasters and the city was fair.
"It's not the city's responsibility to look at attendance and do what we can to grow attendance numbers there. Ultimately, that's the team's responsibility to run their operation. They asked for that ability to do that," says Anselm.
City officials say there may be other options for professional baseball in Joplin.
"Other leagues have expressed interest. I haven't sat down with those individuals yet," says Anselm.
Seibert, though, won't discuss lessons learned from the Blasters that could make future Joplin baseball teams successful.
"I'm not going to sit here and analyze the situation," says Seibert. "I think they did the best they could."
The City of Joplin used taxpayer money to cover a $25,000 rent due from the Blasters last year. Anselm says he won't know until a future budget time how many tax dollars will be needed to compensate for the Blasters' missed payment this year.
City officials did a walk-through of Joe Becker this morning, and noticed overgrown grass and weeds that, city officials believe, had not been picked all baseball season-long. A more thorough walk-through will take place later.
The Blasters' attorney, Steven Hays in Joplin, has not returned our call for comment.
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