Agreement could give county time to negotiate with Renegades
By Jeff Simms
The Beacon City School District has extended its roughly $29,000-a-year lease for the land beneath Dutchess Stadium for one year with Dutchess County, in hopes that the county can negotiate a long-term agreement with the stadium’s tenants, the Hudson Valley Renegades minor league baseball team.
What’s unclear, however, is whether (or when) county legislators and the Renegades will be able to reach an agreement that satisfies both sides.
The school board’s unanimous vote came about three hours into its Monday (Nov. 19) meeting. Earlier in the evening, board members grilled Dutchess Legislator Frits Zernike, whose district includes Beacon, about the Legislature’s refusal 10 days ago to back County Executive Marc Molinaro’s plan to borrow $2.4 million in bonds to complete a first phase of repairs at the stadium.
The Legislature fell four votes short of the two-thirds majority it needed to approve Molinaro’s spending plan on Nov. 13, leading the county executive to threaten to “give away” the county-owned stadium to the school district.
The issue is complex because there are two longstanding agreements between three parties at play. In 2008, the Beacon school district signed a 10-year lease (extending a previous long-term commitment) on the 21 acres it owns beneath the stadium. The county paid the district $23,100 annually for the first three years, $26,250 for years four through eight, and $29,400 for 2017 and 2018.
The county, in turn, has leased the stadium to the Renegades since its construction in 1994. Its most recent agreement expired in 2016, and the team has approved one-year extensions since then.
Renegades ownership says the 4,500-person facility is in dire need of repair, and that the first phase of funding — $2.4 million from Dutchess County combined with a $600,000 state grant — would cover immediate repairs to damaged concrete and broken seats before the 2019 season begins in June.
Since the Nov. 13 meeting, the legislators have asked Molinaro for more information about a second phase of improvements, which the lawmakers believe would require another $3.6 million in bond funding. If the Legislature is satisfied with the information it gets from Molinaro, it could vote on the first phase bond proposal again at its Dec. 3 meeting.
“What we’re missing is a specific plan for what this bond is going to do,” Zernike said on Monday. “Really, it’s no more complicated than that.”
Renegades owner Jeff Goldklang said Wednesday that the second phase would encompass “significant upgrades to the park to bring it to a professional baseball standard.” If the county agrees to phase two, he said, the Renegades will commit to a 20-year lease on Dutchess Stadium while “contributing heavily” toward the stadium enhancements. A framework for that agreement has already been discussed and Goldklang said he believes a deal could go to the Legislature for approval in the spring.
But Legislator Nick Page, who also represents Beacon, said Wednesday that he still sees negotiations for phase two coming “on the far side of phase one.” A similar one-year extension between the county and club to allow time for those talks could be another possibility, he said.
The school board’s vote on Monday appears to have at least taken the mismatched scenario of the district assuming ownership of the stadium off the table.
Molinaro is “not interested in turning the stadium over to you all,” Dutchess County Public Works Commissioner Robert Balkind told the board before its vote. “We want to keep the stadium. We think it’s a huge asset to the county.”
While that seemed to allay some of the district’s concerns, several school board members indicated they still weren’t happy being forced into a last-minute decision.
“I don’t like being pushed close to the clock,” said board member Craig Wolf. “This is not one of those things where it’s supposed to be sudden death overtime.”