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Cards get approval to purchase Memphis affiliate

ST. LOUIS -- Citing the need for more deliberation and information regarding a proposal that included the Cardinals' purchase of the Triple-A Redbirds franchise, the Memphis City Council had delayed a December vote on the issue. On Tuesday -- more than a month after the council first heard the proposal -- the necessary approval finally came.

The Memphis City Council, after another two hours of debate, passed the measure by an 8-4 vote. Allowing the Cardinals to take ownership of their affiliate was only a part of the proposal, which also requires that Memphis purchase AutoZone Park and its remaining bonds. It was this latter issue that was a point of concern for several of the council members.

Tuesday's vote capped a day that began with a rally outside AutoZone Park, where city residents gathered to voice their support for the proposal. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak addressed those supporters and later spoke during the city council meeting.

"I hear a lot of angst about this deal, and I just think one of the things we need to think about as a group is how we want to see this ballpark and the vision moving forward," Mozeliak said in his pitch to the council members. "Our job is about making money, making a profit at the ballpark. ... This is a unique opportunity for the city of Memphis."

He reiterated the Cardinals' intent to re-brand AutoZone Park, to increase ticket sales by up to 100,000 per year and to make the operation more efficient and profitable.

The Cardinals' interest in purchasing the Redbirds was first announced on Nov. 15. The organization hoped to have the sale wrapped up by the end of 2013, but the City Council postponed voting on Dec. 3 and Dec. 9. The original proposal has been slightly tweaked, but still calls for the Cardinals to go into a 17-year lease agreement with AutoZone Park. The agreement also includes two five-year options at its conclusion.

"I don't think we could have picked a better partner," Memphis mayor A C Wharton Jr. said during his comments to the council members.

The Cardinals will pay a lease of $300,000 annually per this agreement, support the local RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Program and play an annual exhibition game in Memphis. Mozeliak also noted that the Cardinals will sign a new four-year player development contract with Memphis once the deal is finalized. The Cardinals' current contract with Memphis will expire after the 2014 season.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper, citing Redbirds Foundation treasurer John Pontius, reported that this purchase could officially close within the next two months. Once finalized, the Redbirds will become the fourth Cardinals-owned affiliate.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
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