Rochester Honkers at Eau Claire Express baseball

Fans watch the Eau Claire Express' season opener against Rochester on May 31 at Carson Park.

EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire Express baseball team is getting a 58% price discount on fees for using Carson Park this year.

Normally the Northwoods League team would be charged $44,300 in city fees for using the Eau Claire park’s baseball stadium for a season of home games.

However, on Tuesday afternoon the City Council unanimously decided to reduce those costs for the 2021 season to $18,605 based on significantly lower attendance at games due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Ticket sales at this year’s games represented about 42% of the average annual sales between 2016 and 2019, according to a city memo.

Last year the team cancelled all of its games and then-City Manger Dale Peters city waived all fees in 2020 specified in Eau Claire’s contract with the Express.

Council members Jill Christopherson and Emily Berge asked Tuesday if federal COVID-19 recovery funds could help the Express and city make up for lost revenue tied to a low-attendance baseball season.

City Finance Director Jay Winzenz said while the American Rescue Plan Act funds can be used to recover lost government revenues, he’s skeptical the city could tap that to make up for the discount provided to the Express.

“It probably won’t be a direct relationship between the two,” he said.

But he noted that minor league baseball teams can seek funds from the state to help them recover some of their ticket sales lost to the pandemic.

The state Department of Administration has up to $2.8 million in grants funded by ARPA to help minor league sports teams recover from economic impacts of the pandemic. An announcement made last month stated grants will be up to $200,000 per team. Teams have until Friday afternoon to apply to that grant program.

Solberg stays interim manager

David Solberg’s term as interim city manager was extended Tuesday by another six months, which now makes it scheduled to end in mid-April.

Solberg, who usually serves as Eau Claire’s engineering director, has led the city since October 2020 when City Manager Dale Peters retired.

Since then, Solberg’s tenure in the interim position has been extended by six months at a time while the city struggled to find a permanent successor for Peters.

The first search ended in February with the council’s chosen candidate opting to take a job elsewhere, which prompted the city to pause and then restart its recruitment.

A second search has begun, including last month’s hiring of executive search firm Polihire of Washington, D.C. for $38,000 to assist the city by finding and screening candidates.

According to resolution extending Solberg’s term, he is receiving 20% above his regular engineering director wages while he is serving as interim city manager.

Other business

• A resolution stating Eau Claire is a welcoming place to refugees, including Afghan people currently housed at Fort McCoy, was approved unanimously.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter