Posted May 28, 2014
Should Dutchess County government, and its taxpayers, be in the ballpark business?
The 2014 New York-Penn League will be the Hudson Valley Renegades' first on their new artificial-turf home field at Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill. Video: Sean T. McMann/Poughkeepsie Journal Sean T. McMann
It's a debate that pits diehard fans of Dutchess Stadium's minor league ball team, the Hudson Valley Renegades, against taxpayers who don't use the stadium and must pay to renovate its 20-year-old infrastructure.
Dutchess residents — who contributed $3.5 million toward the construction of Dutchess Stadium in 1994 — will be paying back a $1.01 million bond for the next 15 years that paid for replacing the stadium's vulnerable grass field with more durable artificial turf.
The field will be unveiled on the Renegades' opening day, June 13.
The county will pay $95,161 this year toward the bond. That's almost twice as much as the $48,990 the county expects to profit from the stadium this year.
Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Rob Rolison told the Journal last year there were "probably $6 million worth of upgrades and repairs that could be done," that the county can't afford.
County Executive Marc Molinaro said the improved field will allow the county to bring athletic competitions and entertainment to "the Dutch," and increase revenue opportunities — mainly via sales tax and mass-gathering event fees.
He pointed out the Renegades are a contributor to the local economy through sales and payroll taxes, direct spending and job creation.
Team expenditures in the county totaled $6.5 million from 2008 to 2012, the ballclub's economic-impact data show.
The Renegades are a minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, in the American League. Renegades President Jeff Goldklang didn't immediately respond to Journal messages.
Local high school teams also have been able to use the stadium.
Others, like county Comptroller James Coughlan, feel the county is locked into a contract with the franchise through 2016 that favors the team.
"Excess operating costs and capital costs are a taxpayer burden," he said in a recent audit.
Some believe taxpayers would be better off if the stadium were sold and managed by a private company.
County Legislator Joe Incoronato, R-Wappinger, said the stadium is "kind of a money pit."
He proposed selling the stadium when the county imposed a 3.75 percent tax on home-energy use. That tax has been repealed.
County spokeswoman Colleen Pillus said the stadium is a "quality of life amenity" for locals. It's a county park, she said, and park improvements aren't viewed as "unprofitable."
Retired high school guidance counselor and former legislator Roger Higgins of New Hamburg said, "It's ... not unlike our rail trails. There are things in government that don't make money. When we plow the streets, we don't make money."
Last year, 164,230 people attended Renegades games, according to New York-Penn League statistics. That was the third-highest attendance of 14 teams in the league.
The home-energy tax went into effect March 1 to balance a $7.8 million shortfall in the 2014 budget. The unpopular fuel surcharge is set to be relieved June 1 by aid in the state budget.
"I felt it was totally uncalled for," Tom Marino, 65, of Hyde Park said about the tax.
His views on the stadium? It should be "jobbed out," he said. "We can't afford it right now."
Incoronato wants a for-profit entity to buy the stadium, one he feels would be better suited at attracting event promoters and handling the Renegades' lease.
Legislator Alison MacAvery, assistant minority leader, said selling the stadium should be "up for conversation." She was one of three legislators against borrowing more than $1 million to upgrade the stadium's field because, she said, "we were lacking funds in other (budget) areas."
Finding a buyer is unlikely, Pillus said. No company has approached the county to inquire about a sale, and the county doesn't own the land rights, she said. The Beacon City School District owns the land the stadium sits on. Others feel the county should re-evaluate its lease agreement when it expires on Dec. 31, 2016.
The 10-year agreement came up in an audit by Coughlan. The audit on stadium finances from 2006-11 states the contract "does not maximize (county) revenue."
Under the contract, the most the county can receive in lease payments from the Renegades is $233,000 a year. Event tickets, parking, food and merchandise profits go to the franchise. However, the county earns sales tax when fans purchase goods, Molinaro said.
The Renegades also pay $25,000 a year into a county reserve fund, which has historically covered small repairs like electrical-system upgrades and maintenance-equipment purchases, he said. There wasn't money in reserves to pay for the turf project, he said.
Special-event revenue is brought in through a fee associated with the county's mass-gathering permit. The franchise, for instance, pays the county about $10,000 annually to host radio station WSPK K104.7's KFest concert.
Molinaro wants to see more events like this at the stadium; he has asked Dutchess County Tourism to help market it for concerts, car shows, food expos, etc. Other events, like the Cole Bros. Circus and Hudson Valley Fair, held in the stadium parking lot, are exempt from the permit fees, Molinaro said. That clause in the contract will be reviewed, he said.
Legislator Gwen Johnson, D-City of Poughkeepsie, said her family "had a ton of fun" going to the stadium when her children were young. "We need to find ways ... to have more events there. I love that stadium," she said.
sbradshaw@poughkeep siejournal.com; 845-437-4811; Twitter: @bradshawsarah
NEW YORK-PENN LEAGUE STADIUMS
A look at the management of other stadiums in the league that includes the Renegades.
Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen, Maryland
Home of the Aberdeen Ironbirds
The City of Aberdeen owns the stadium. The franchise pays the city rent. The city takes care of major repairs. The city received a $450,000 grant last year to repair the stadium parking lot. (Source: Brad Cox, Ironbirds Assistant General Manager and city budget documents.)
Falcon Park, Auburn, Cayuga County, New York
Home of the Auburn Doubledays
The City of Auburn owns the ballpark and the franchise baseball team. In 2013, the city loaned it $125,000 to pay for its debts. The same year, the city also received a New York state grant to upgrade its field. (Source: Mayor Michael Quill)
Dwyer Stadium, Batavia, Genesee County, New York
Home of the Batavia Muckdogs
The City of Batavia owns the stadium and subleases it to the Muckdog franchise at no cost. The franchise is owned by the nonprofit, the Genesee County Baseball Club, and is managed by the Red Wings, a major league baseball team. The Red Wings handle day-to-day stadium maintenance. The city pays for capital improvement costs and has recently allocated about $30,000 in capital-improvement funds to upgrade seating. The funds were paid using a reserve fund for stadium repairs. (Source: City Manager Jason Molino)
Edward A. LeLacheur Park, Lowell, Massachusetts
Home of the Lowell Spinners
The stadium is owned by the City of Lowell and sits on the campus of the University of Massachusetts (Lowell), which donated the land and uses the facility rent-free. The Lowell Spinners franchise manages the ballpark and pays an annual rental fee to the city. It also as pays for regular maintenance. Major stadium capital improvements are funded by the city and paid for with a 50 cents per ticket surcharge. (Source: City Manager Bernard Lynch and U Mass Athletic Director Dana Skinner)
Eastwood Field, Niles, Ohio
Home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers
A private shopping mall leasing company, Cafaro Co., donated land to the city then leased it back for $1 each year so it would be tax-exempt. Cafaro Co. built the ballpark for about $27 million and leases the park to the baseball franchise for a rental fee, plus a percentage of the ticket, concession and parking revenue. The park is profitable, according to the company, which decline to disclose the profit amount. (Source: Cafaro spokesman Joe Bell)
Dutchess Stadium, Fishkill
Home of the Hudson Valley Renegades
Dutchess County owns the stadium, which was built on land that is leased by the county from the Beacon Central School District. The county leases the stadium to the Hudson Valley Renegades franchise, which pays the county rent and handles day-to-day maintenance. County taxpayers fund most major stadium repairs and upgrades, including the recent $1 million artificial turf field, which debuts June 13 on opening day. (Source: Journal research)