Click here to see a timeline of Omaha Royals/Storm Chasers owners.
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A Big Apple businessman has bought the Omaha Storm Chasers, but he guarantees you that they won't become the Brooklyn Storm Chasers or the Long Island Storm Chasers while he's in charge.
Gary Green, the new owner of the minor league baseball franchise, said Monday that the team's sparkling new Sarpy County ballpark — a ballpark built with Sarpy County tax dollars — is a major reason he grew interested in buying the team.
And even if Green wanted to move the team, which he says he doesn't, he couldn't pull up stakes without incurring huge financial penalties.
The Storm Chasers have more than 23 years left on their lease with Sarpy County, a deal that team officials, county officials and lawyers who helped draft the agreement all describe as virtually airtight.
Pulling out of the lease would most likely cost the new Storm Chasers owner about $11.5 million in lease payments, plus potentially millions more in revenue owed to the county and legal fees.
All told, it might actually cost more to break the lease than it did to buy the team itself.
Green and an ownership group that includes Alan Stein, longtime president of the team formerly known as the Omaha Royals, paid between $15 million and $25 million for the franchise, Green said. He wouldn't disclose the exact terms of the sale, citing a confidentiality agreement with the Storm Chasers' former owners: Bill Shea, Warren Buffett and Walter Scott.
The Storm Chasers wouldn't leave “even if we were in the last year of the lease,” Green said. “I think it's great to have that stability (of a new stadium). It's great for Sarpy. It's great for us.”
Tom Richards, the only Sarpy County Board member to vote against the tax-financed construction of Werner Park, agreed that a sale shouldn't harm the county.
“If they are indeed sold, then I'm satisfied that the taxpayers of Sarpy County have a binding agreement” to keep the team in the county, Richards said.
Green's purchase of the Storm Chasers ends 21 straight years that an Omahan has owned at least a piece of the city's Triple A baseball team.
It also could signal a metamorphosis for the Storm Chasers, one that might boost attendance even as the sheen of a new name, a new logo and a new ballpark begin to wear off.
Green has already had serious success as a part owner of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a minor league team that drew nearly a half-million fans and led all of minor league baseball in merchandise sales in 2010.
The Squirrels, a Double A minor league team, did that despite playing in a 25-year-old stadium and despite being on the opposite coast from the San Francisco Giants, their major league club.
The Storm Chasers, by contrast, are a Triple A team playing in a new stadium that can boast a long-standing affiliation with their major league club, the nearby Kansas City Royals.
The Storm Chasers drew 425,742 fans last year.
“The new ownership appears motivated,” said Lee Polikov, the Sarpy County attorney. “They are experienced, they want a successful franchise, and I think they were attracted by what's available here. There is certainly a positive end to the transfer of ownership.”
Expect Green to try to squeeze more money out of merchandise; the Squirrels have done that in part with a series of T-shirt slogans, such as “Squirrels Gone Wild,” that play off the unique nickname.
And the new owner, who effusively praised Werner Park's entertainment offerings for kids and families, will probably try to tweak those as well.
Monday, he and Martie Cordaro, the Storm Chasers' president and general manager, were ticking off some of the kid-friendly offerings — a carousel, a bounce house, Boy Scout campouts in the outfield — when Green stopped in midsentence.
“We need a dunk tank,” he told Cordaro.
One filled with water instead of confetti, like the dunk tank at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, he said.
“Not as much fun,” he said of dunking someone into a tank of confetti.
Green is a lifelong Mets fan whose company, Alliance Building Services, now has cleaning contracts to tidy up Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, which both opened in 2009. The firm provides janitorial, security and painting services to hundreds of commercial clients in the New York metro area.
The new Storm Chasers owner comes from risk-taking stock: His father, Stephen Green, is a commercial real estate legend who has bought 75 Manhattan office buildings since forming his own property company in 1980, enduring several real estate booms and busts in those three decades. He's now chairman of the board of the publicly traded Green Realty Corp., which is Manhattan's largest owner of office buildings.
But Green doesn't see his latest venture as much of a gamble. He looked at some 30 other minor league franchises before deciding on the Storm Chasers. He's convinced that the new park, the metro area's history of minor league baseball and Cordaro's leadership were “a perfect storm,” he said, pun intended.
There's absolutely no reason to move the Storm Chasers, he reiterated several times in an interview.
“We are here for the long haul,” he said.
World-Herald researcher Jeanne Hauser contributed to this report.
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Timeline: Omaha Royals/Storm Chasers Owners
1969-84 Kansas City Royals own the Omaha team.
1985 Irving “Gus” Cherry of Chicago buys the Omaha Royals.
1991 Cherry sells the Royals for $5 million to the Union Pacific Railroad (50 percent) and Omaha businessmen Warren Buffett and Walter Scott (25 percent each).
1998 Omaha Royals' name changes to the Golden Spikes.
2001 Matt Minker, a businessman based in Wilmington, Del., buys the Union Pacific shares in the renamed Omaha Royals.
2006 Bill Shea and Ivy Walls Management Co. of Philadelphia buy Minker's 50 percent and begin a campaign for a new stadium.
2011 Werner Park opens as home of the team, now the Omaha Storm Chasers.
2012 Gary Green of New York leads a team of investors that buys out Shea, Buffett and Scott.