GARY │ While city officials spent a lot of time and energy in the early years of the U.S. Steel Yard trying to develop the 5th Avenue corridor into a vibrant area with restaurants and other destination-type businesses to complement the baseball field, the owner of the Gary RailCats said it “just hasn’t happened.”
Speaking Monday at Majestic Star Casino during the Gary Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon, Patrick A. Salvi said running the RailCats is “as much as we can handle to do it right.
“Our belief is the best we can do is just run our business as best we can,” he said. “We have to be very successful.”
Salvi said the RailCats bring 160,000 people into Gary every summer and he and fellow executives try to keep a positive cash flow, while keeping the ballpark pristine and upgrading it when necessary. That includes food and beverage areas, quality of play on the field and non-baseball events.
“Hopefully that will encourage others to see that it can be done,” he said.
The team is completing a new marquee that will enhance its presence along the expressway and stadium, Salvi said. A new video board will be installed this year to enhance fan experience.
The team’s lease will be up for renewal with Gary in 2017, and Salvi doesn’t think there will be substantive changes to it.
“When the time comes, the city and the RailCats will sit down and hopefully arrive at a mutually agreeable renewal of a lease,” he said.
Salvi said a major issue with regard to minor league baseball and municipalities involves some cities trying to extract every dime out of the lease to be political and show residents they're now kow-towing to a private enterprise with public money.
“A city has to look at it as a quality-of-life issue like having a park or a library,” he said. “It’s not a cash cow. If you do that, if you play hardball with the owner, then the owner would become tired of losing money and sell and move out, or eventually fail.”
The RailCats, which Salvi bought in 2008, won the 2013 American Association Championship.
“We experienced really good success this past season,” he said. “The Gary SouthShore RailCats remain a real mainstay in Northwest Indiana.”
Salvi said attendance was up about 6 percent last year, and the team always ranks among the highest in percentile among independent professional minor league baseball across the country.