South Bend Silver Hawks sold, but staying in town

The South Bend Silver Hawks will not ‘fly the coup,’ despite the fact that the team is being sold to a Chicago businessman.

“We’re going to be entering into a use agreement (for Coveleski Stadium) that will total about 20 years and so I’ll be about 71 years old at that point,” said team buyer Andrew Berlin. “I don’t know what’s going to happen beyond that, hopefully we’ll stand here, renew it all over again.”

Under the terms of a proposed stadium lease agreement with Berlin, the city is being asked to make a major commitment of its own. “Part of the use management agreement that we will bring to the park board will show a commitment on the city’s part to make additional investment in the stadium,” said South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke.

South Bend recently made some $7 million worth of improvements at Coveleski Stadium, but the city is being asked to spend up to $2 million more on renovations that have not yet been specified.

“Andrew has had some specialists in stadium design come through to look at what we did, were impressed with that work but also felt that there’s some additional things that help to enhance the experience for our fans, for families in the community,” said Mayor Luecke.

While it’s clear that the stadium improvements made so far were essential in bringing about the sale of the team, current team owner Joseph Kernan today denied any suggestion that he would personally profit.

“Just say that we have not turned a profit in any year since I bought the ball club, and therefore there have been no distributions to any of the investors, and none of the investors, including me, will make any, will make any money on the transaction. We’re selling the team for less than we bought it for,” Kernan said.

While the current owners received nothing in terms of financial gain, they arguably got something worth its weight in gold—the commitment to keep the team in South Bend for the long haul.

“There is and never has been any plan to move the team out of South Bend,” said Andrew Berlin. “Right now, there’s 16 teams in the Midwest League, we rank third from last in attendance, that just kills me when I see that number.”

Berlin is an investor in the Chicago White Sox, and a businessman who says he knows how to turn companies around. “The fan base we know is there, but for some reason it hasn’t attached itself to the ball park. The crowds used to be there and they can come back.”

Berlin said he would increase expenditures on advertising and marketing: something the current ownership could not do because of the heavy debt it incurred in hastily buying the team in 2005.

Joe Kernan came on the scene as attempts were being made to buy the Silver Hawks and move the team to Marion, Illinois.

The deal announced today is subject to the approval of professional baseball at the winter meetings scheduled for the first week in December.

Next Tuesday, the South Bend Park Board will hold a special meeting to consider the stadium lease with Berlin and Swing-Batter-Swing LLC.

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