Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Privatizing ballparks 

The City of St. Cloud and its summer college team, the River Bats, are trying to hammer out an agreement for the Bats to take over management of the baseball fields currently held by the City. A public discussion last night brought out any number of local amateur baseball officials who are concerned about access to Dick Putz and Joe Faber fields. (Can't blame them in one sense -- they're nice places to watch a game.) The agreement calls for cash payments to the city in return for the River Bats' collection of concession and signage revenue. The amateur teams are concerned that the River Bats will hoard the most desirable dates for their own home games. The fields are often used for high school, American Legion and town baseball play, and host several tournaments.

The city's budget indicates that concession revenue from all Municipal Athletic Complex sources -- the two ballparks, the municipal ice arena, and the golf course -- is about $350,000. I can't break that number down further, nor do I know what the cost of providing concessions were. Ad revenues were about $110,000 -- how much of that is the signage to be given to the Bats under the agreement is still unknown. In return for this the city would get $95,000 in 2006 and $127,000 in 2007 from the Bats, as well as rental fees. After those two years there would be a review to extend the time and terms of the contracting arrangement for another eight years. Any expenses related to concessions or signage are paid by the Bats.

The scheduling agreement offers some protection of the other teams:

...on or before November 1, 2006, and on or before November 1st of each year during the term of this Agreement, the City will provide the River Bats with 47 evening dates for the each season. Of these dates, at least five will be Friday evenings, and at least five will be Saturday evenings. On or before January 1, 2007, and on or before January 1st of each year during the term of this Agreement, the River Bats will provide to the City its selection of 34 of the available dates for scheduling of River Bats games.

This doesn't freeze out other possible users, but establishes a time by which a tournament would have to let the City know the dates it wished in order to allow the City to black out those evenings. What the amateur teams want is a continued free lunch at the expense of the city and River Bats ownership.

And the River Bats not only have to live with scheduling uncertainty at the ballpark but also a lack of improvements to the facility. The complex has transferred in almost a million dollars in bond revenue to stay in the black, while making less than a quarter of that in improvements. It receives half of its continuing revenue in rental fees, which it appears the city would keep.

So the city presently is subsidizing amateur baseball at taxpayer expense, while also shorting improvements and running the stadium below its cost. Isn't that just the sort of thing that cries out for privatization?

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