Source: Zephyrs owner close to selling part of team; Z’s to stay in New Orleans _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- Andy Haines manager for the New Orleans Zephyrs talks with catcher Brandon Bantz in Metairie, La. Thursday, May 14, 2015.

New Orleans Zephyrs vice president and legal counsel Walter Leger said Thursday that a partial sale of the team has not yet taken place. However, a source close to Zephyrs owner Don Beaver said the sides “are very close” to consummating a deal.

Leger confirmed Beaver is in talks to sell a portion of the team to Lou Schwekheimer, who was part of the ownership group of the Pawtucket Red Sox, a Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, before selling his interest last year.

The team will remain in New Orleans, Leger said. He said the Zephyrs also are working on a new lease with the LSED and that SMG will take over operations of Zephyr Field.

“It appears Don will stay a part of the team,” Leger said. “He loves New Orleans, and he was part of the group when local ownership (Leger, Rob Couhig and Beaver) bought the team in 1995.”

Beaver bought the team from Leger and Couhig five years later.

Leger said he didn’t know why Beaver was selling part of the Zephyrs. However, he also has part ownership in the Pittsburgh Pirates and owns other minor league teams. A spokesman for Beaver said he was not yet available for comment.

However, he has been approached about selling the team outright before, and currently, the source said, three groups were attempting to buy the Zephyrs, including a local group.

The Zephyrs’ stadium lease with LSED was to expire after next season, but the Zephyrs had an option to extend it for five years, Leger said. They are working on a deal now to extend it through 2021, but terms of the agreement will change.

“We will extend the lease as of this year through 2021,” Leger said.

The lease agreement is expected to be completed by mid-September, the source said. Zephyrs General Manager Mike Schline said the sides have not reached a lease agreement but “have agreed in principle to a term sheet on how a new lease could be structured that both parties see favorable.

“Now the lawyers on both ends will make that into an actual lease,” he said.

The source said the lease agreement must be in place before partial sale of he Z’s takes place.

SMG will take over managing the stadium, which has been handled by the Zephyrs’ operations staff, general manager Mike Schline said.

“Up until now, the Zephyrs have been managing the stadium year-round,” Leger said. “It would be like the Saints managing the Superdome year-round.”

With LSED managing the stadium and SMG operating, it will take some of the financial burden off the Zephyrs, money that could help go to promotions, he said. The Zephyrs are 14th in average attendance in the Pacific Coast League this season and have languished near the bottom for several years.

Leger said the developments hopefully will allow for upgrades and improvements at Zephyr Field, which was built in 1997.

“The stadium is in need of some updating,” he said. “When it was built, it was state of the art. There were few finer stadiums in minor league baseball. Now it’s showing a little wear and tear.

“Part of the commitment of the state and the LSED is with the extension of the lease and the commitment of ownership increasing, hopefully we’ll be able to do some improvements, some upgrades, some updating, some maintenance that will make it a more pleasant experience for the fans.”