Last week the BOCC withdrew the commitment made by the previous Board to contribute $500,000 in funding for capital improvements to the Harry Grove Stadium. Their reasoning was simply that it is more important for them to fund schools than a baseball stadium. I have written and asked the Commissioners to reconsider, but their comments at a County-Municipalities meeting last week does not give me hope that they will change their vote. This means that Frederick City will fund the $7 – $9 million stadium renovations, with some assistance from the State, but without assistance from the County, even though the County receives substantial indirect economic benefits from the stadium operations.
Some people are taking this opportunity to express their opinions that the City should not be in the business of operating a professional sports stadium. The Frederick News Post ran an article yesterday that reported the results of an internet poll it took, in which it asked “How should construction of sports stadiums be funded? 72% of the people said “privately,” 1% said “government-funded,” 25% said “combination,” and 2% were “not sure.” This poll and the discussion that ensued is not HELPFUL and is in fact COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE.
The City is not deciding whether or not to get involved in a stadium investment. We are already involved. The City is sitting with a multi-million dollar stadium that we are leasing on a year-to-year basis to the Frederick Keys. The Keys will not enter into a long-term lease unless and until certain needed renovations are made. And, in case you're not aware there are not a lot of teams knocking at our door asking to lease the stadium. A previous Board of Alderman made the decision to make the renovations in order to secure a long-term lease, and in order to maximize the benefits from the City's stadium investment. After considering the matter in some detail, the current Board has continued this commitment.
The comment that a City should not fund a sports stadium is not helpful to a City that has already funded and built a sports stadium. If someone thinks the City should immediately divest itself of the Grove stadium, then they must ASK and ANSWER this question: Should the City leave Grove stadium vacant and abandon its multi-million dollar investment? That is the question that this Board has addressed; and we have concluded that it would be best to renovate the stadium in order to best manage the stadium investment.
If the City should decide to divest itself of the stadium investment, we must decide when and how. The wisest course would be to attempt to sell the stadium, in order to recover as much of our investment as possible. And if we should decide to sell, then we would be best served to have the stadium occupied and bringing in fans and money–that is the course that would be most likely to bring the highest price. In my opinion, any other course of action the City would take would be fiscally irresponsible.
During recent years, the City has operated the stadium at a direct loss of approximately $90,000 to $100,000 per year (according to my estimates). However, there are substantial indirect benefits that I believe more than compensate for these losses. A 2003 report calculated that stadium operations bring in annually $7 million dollars in expenditures in the City and County. These expenditures are part of the successes of multiple business enterprises in the City and County. In addition, the stadium is part of the attractive economic package that attracts businesses and people to come to Frederick. Along with the Airport, Carroll Creek, the Historic Downtown, the Weinberg Center, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and other local features, the Harry Grove Stadium contributes to both the quality of life in Frederick and to the economic strength of the City and County. While the precise positive impact this has on the City is difficult to calculate with precision, it is nevertheless real and substantial. The economic vitality of the City and County are greatly enhanced by Harry Grove Stadium. Those who would deny these benefits or pretend they don't exist are of no help in determining the best course of action to pursue in managing the stadium.
For the present, the City will attend to renovating the stadium without any assistance from the County. It is certainly the prerogative of the BOCC to withdraw their promised funding towards stadium renovations, even though the County receives substantial benefits from the stadium. But the question of whether or not to renovate the stadium is not just a matter of deciding what's more important, baseball or education. Characterizing the issue this way is a misleading oversimplification of a complex and important economic problem; such characterization only serves to promote shallow reasoning and superficial rhetoric, while at the same time it actually serves to block the best solution to the problem. It is to the credit of the City's elected officials, that we have refused to succumb to this popular but flawed hype. The City's commitment to renovate the stadium is fiscally sound and economically warranted; it is the right thing to do.