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Man behind proposal blames Giants for his dropping stadium plans


The man who wants to build a minor league baseball stadium in Windsor, and got town officials excited about the prospect, isn't optimistic now that it will happen.

Entrepreneur Chris Lee, who last summer convinced the Windsor Town Council to let him proceed with a study to determine the feasibility of a stadium, said recently "it doesn't make sense to pursue."

Lee blamed the San Francisco Giants for benching his plans to bring minor league baseball to Wine Country.

"The Giants hold all the cards, and the Giants have declined to play," he said Monday. Lee explained that the organization has territorial rights over which team affiliated with Major League Baseball can come to Sonoma County.

"If you want to add an affiliated team, you can't do it without the permission of the Giants," he said. "The Giants have declined to participate in that conversation."

But on Tuesday, a Giants executive said the organization had not yet formally replied to the letter Lee sent after the World Series.

"I'm not aware of any formal rejection from the Giants," Bobby Evans, vice-president of baseball operations said.

Evans said he didn't want to give the impression the Giants were "leaning one way or another" on the issue of minor league baseball in Sonoma County, but he promised Lee there will be a written reply to his letter.

Based on what he heard "from people on the inside," Lee had recently informed Windsor officials that he essentially was dropping his proposal to bring a major league farm team to Windsor.

"We would have loved to have seen that come to town," Mayor Steve Allen said Tuesday. "But I don't think anybody was banking on it. It was fairly sketchy."

Town Manager Matt Mullan said, "We were excited about that, certainly the benefits to the community of having minor league baseball and the economic stimulus -- people staying in hotels and visiting."

In August, Lee convinced the Town Council to allow him to proceed with a feasibility study of a public-private partnership to build a stadium in Windsor.

Lee and his group of investors, Pacific Baseball Partners, proposed constructing a $10 million stadium if Windsor used its redevelopment funds to buy the land.

The idea was for the town to buy about 16 to 20 acres for a stadium site and parking, financed through its redevelopment agency.

With Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal this week to phase out redevelopment agencies, that also has cast doubt on the ability of cities like Windsor to launch redevelopment projects, including subsidizing a new stadium site.

But Lee said the main problem was with the San Francisco Giants, who ignored his request for permission to proceed with buying a Class A, major league-affiliated team, and moving it to Windsor.

"They basically said, 'We're not talking about it,' " he said.

While Giants' vice-president Evans indicated Tuesday there was no formal decision, Lee wasn't convinced baseball in Windsor has much of a chance.

"The door apparently didn't get locked after it got shut," Lee said of the Giants' stance. "I still think there's a lot of reasons for the Giants to make this go away."

Lee believes the Giants' reticence is tied into uncertainty over its affiliated farm team, the San Jose Giants, in Santa Clara County.

The Oakland A's want to move to San Jose, but the Giants also have territorial rights there.

That situation needs to be resolved first, Lee said, because the Giants' minor league team would need to find a new home if the A's move to San Jose.

"The value of this (Sonoma County) territory is too much to let it go to someone else, until they know if their Single A team needs a new home," he said. "They don't want to do anything that suggests publicly they're looking at Plan B, in case they lose San Jose."

As a Giants fan since 1968, he said the situation is particularly frustrating.

Lee is a Kenwood resident and former San Francisco television news director who works as a systems architect for a Silicon Valley electronics firm.

He has been trying to bring minor league baseball to Sonoma County for more than five years and said he's looked at a dozen sites.

Proposed locations that never got to first base include an open space area near Alba Lane, just north of Santa Rosa city limits, as well as the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Minor league baseball has a tenuous history in Sonoma County.

Rohnert Park built a 10-acre stadium 30 years ago for the Redwood Pioneers, a Class A team that moved to Palm Springs in 1986. The Sonoma County Crushers, playing in the independent Western Baseball League, used the stadium from 1995 to 2002, when the league disbanded.

The stadium was demolished in 2005 to make way for a shopping center, which has yet to be built.

Merritt Paulson, son of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., proposed buying a California League team and building a stadium at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, but the talks foundered over financial details in 2006.

Lee said a major league-affiliated team is much more financially viable than an independent league team.

"Sonoma County remains a great market for Single A baseball," he said. "We have to stand in line and wait for the larger issue to be resolved."You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat

.com.