Tacoma group looks to buy Rainiers

Baseball: Curtis High grad leads negotiations to buy team, keep it at Cheney Stadium

January 5, 2011 

Tacoma group looks to buy Rainiers

A frozen field provides the backdrop as construction workers install decking Tuesday on the grandstand roof of Tacoma's Cheney Stadium. The stadium renovation is scheduled to be complete for the Tacoma Rainiers' opening day in April.

BY DEAN J. KOEPFLER/THE NEWS TRIBUNE — The Olympian

Tacoma - A group of local investors calling itself the Baseball Club of Tacoma is attempting to buy the Tacoma Rainiers from the team's current principal owners, SDL Baseball Partners.

The Rainiers released a statement Tuesday saying both sides have submitted a letter of intent for preliminary negotiations for the sale of the team.

The Baseball Club of Tacoma is led by Mikal Thomsen, a Tacoma native and graduate of Curtis High School and Washington State University. No price for the sale was announced.

Thomsen met Monday with Mayor Marilyn Strickland, City Manager Eric Anderson and the Rainiers management team to talk about the prospective purchase, Strickland said.

Strickland and Anderson briefed City Council members on the proposed sale during a committee meeting Tuesday afternoon. Anderson pointed out that a new owner would have a legal obligation to continue the 30-year lease the team has with the city on Cheney Stadium. Mike Combs, the city’s public assembly facilities director who oversees the stadium, said a sale would not affect the $26.5 million renovation of the ballpark that was approved last year.

“The first question I asked was, ‘Do you have any intention of moving the team out of Tacoma?’” Strickland said. The immediate answer was “‘No, we don’t,’” she added.

Thomsen is co-founder of Trilogy Equity Partners, an investment group based in Bellevue. He has extensive experience in telecommunications, serving as the president and before that chief operating officer of Western Wireless Communications.

One of his fellow co-founders at Trilogy is John Stanton, who founded Western Wireless and also is a member of the Baseball Club of Seattle, minority owners of the Seattle Mariners.

Thomsen and Stanton also were part of the Basketball Club of Seattle LLC, the former SuperSonics ownership group.

Thomsen retains ties to the Tacoma area and serves as a member of the executive board of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.

This would not be Thomsen’s first foray into baseball. In 2009, he and Stanton, Stanton’s wife Theresa Gillespie, Peter Van Oppen, Greg Shaw and former Mariner Jeff Cirillo bought the expansion Walla Walla Sweets franchise that participates in the West Coast League, a summer amateur league for top college players.

Submitting a preliminary letter of intent to buy the Rainiers triggers a mechanism in the Pacific Coast League requiring that prospective owners submit a preliminary application review or PAR, said Branch Rickey, PCL commissioner.

The PCL then reviews the deal itself, the makeup of the ownership group, and its projections and resources, Rickey said, adding that the Baseball Club of Tacoma has not yet submitted a PAR.

“But I expect it in very short order,” Rickey said.

Rickey labeled the talks “preliminary,” but when asked how often prospective owners get to the point of submitting a PAR and then don’t acquire a franchise, he responded, “rarely.”

“It’s happened on occasion,” Rickey said. “The circumstances when they happen would have conditions that aren’t present here.”

Combs said the city tried to get local ownership when the team was put up for sale by George Foster, who ended up selling the team to the Schlegels in November 2006, but no one came forward. Combs believes the aging infrastructure of Cheney Stadium played a role in that.

Work on the “new” Cheney Stadium is due for “substantial” completion April 1 – two weeks before opening day, Combs said.

“Local ownership is always a positive,” he said. “I’m just excited that a local group sees the value of the team in our area. It’s always great to have local flair.”

The name of the group – Baseball Club of Tacoma – “says a lot,” Combs said.

He stressed, though, that the city’s had a positive relationship with the current Dallas-based owners, Bob and Kirby Schlegel. “If it goes forward, I’m going to miss Kirby and Bob,” he added.

Combs and Strickland are pleased with the possible purchase.

“It’s the best thing that could happen to the team,” Strickland said. “The Rainiers have a loyal fan base. Tacoma has really stood behind this team.”

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