Riversharks end operation in Camden

jsharks04z-b600903_1200
Students attend Camden Riversharks "Baseball in Education Day" game at Campbell's Field May 7, 2009.

The Camden Riversharks, the independent professional baseball team that has played at the city's waterfront Campbell's Field for 15 years, has ceased all operations, according to a statement from the team.

"We would like to thank our partners and fans for supporting the club for 15 memorable seasons," reads the statement posted on the team website Wednesday. "We did everything we could to keep affordable, family entertainment alive and well in Camden."

Representatives from the Riversharks could not be reached, but the statement said the decision stemmed from "an inability" to reach an agreement on lease terms with the ballpark's owner, the Camden County Improvement Authority.

Dan Keashen, a spokesman for Camden County, said Wednesday that negotiations were "at an impasse."

It was unclear whether the team plans to relocate to another state.

Last month, several people with knowledge of the situation told the Inquirer that Camden County officials were working to replace the Riversharks with a major-league-affiliated team.

The 6,500-seat Campbell's Field is most likely to attract a team that plays at the single-A level of minor-league baseball, which typically use stadium that size. The Phillies would have to approve any deal with a team affiliated with Major League Baseball because Camden County is within the Phillies' territory.

The Riversharks, members of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, ranked second to last in their eight-team league this year in published attendance. According to their league website they drew just over 3,100 people per game, but actual attendance has been estimated at far lower in recent years, because many free tickets are distributed through sponsorships.

The picturesque $20 million ballpark, which sits near the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge, opened in 2001 and was owned at the time by Rutgers-Camden, whose teams also use its fields.

Many also hoped the stadium would be a catalyst for a revitalized waterfront, joining what are now the Adventure Aquarium and Susquehanna Bank Center as major attractions for visitors in the region and leveraging millions in additional development.

But within a few years, the team was in such dire financial straits that it almost was forced to forfeit its 2004 season. Predictions by the stadium's backers, who said the city would earn hundreds of thousands of dollars through a ticket surcharge, fell far short.

The team has had few winning seasons, and its league is unaffiliated with MLB's farm-team network, which some say has been hard for the Riversharks to overcome.

After the team was sued in 2013 by Santander Bank, which financed the stadium's construction and claimed it was owed more than $4 million in back rent, the Camden County Improvement Authority bought the stadium for $3.5 million. The agency said the transaction would ensure that the stadium remained a viable part of the waterfront.

A final team merchandise sale will be held at the ballpark on Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

asteele@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @AESteele