Deal will keep team at ‘The Dutch’ until 2046
Dutchess County plans to invest more than 20 percent of the $57 million it’s slated to receive over the next two years from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan in the further rehabilitation of Dutchess Stadium, just outside of Beacon.
The $12.5 million commitment cements a new, 25-year lease with the Hudson Valley Renegades, the minor league baseball team that has been the park’s tenant since it opened in 1994. The agreement, announced by the county last week, keeps the Renegades in Dutchess through at least 2046 and, according to County Executive Marc Molinaro, should more than pay for itself through savings and revenue expected over the life of the contract.
Molinaro touted the deal, saying that “Dutchess Stadium remains an economic engine for our county, employing our neighbors, attracting thousands of visitors from throughout the region and adding revenue which offsets taxes for county residents and businesses.”
The county also recently agreed to purchase 33 acres of land beneath and around the stadium from the Beacon City School District for $627,000, a sale that was approved by voters in May. Dutchess will now save what it had paid in rent to the school district (roughly $29,000 annually under its most recent contract) and anticipates increased attendance after the Renegades, as part of Major League Baseball’s restructuring of its minor leagues, dropped their affiliation with the Tampa Bay Rays to become a High-A farm team of the New York Yankees.
The new cash flow will enable the county to establish a reserve account for maintenance or capital projects at county parks, Molinaro said.
“Investing some of the one-time American Rescue Plan funding into these stadium improvements will create a multiyear benefit,” he said. “Establishing a reserve for our county parks will help to make ongoing improvements for our facilities, which our residents and visitors truly value.”
Effective next year, the Renegades will pay the county $308,000 annually in rent, an increase of $50,000 over the current rate. Rent will increase $10,000 every five years, topping out at $348,000 per year. In addition, Dutchess will profit from other events held at the stadium and could sell the stadium’s naming rights. The net benefit is expected to be $600,000 annually, or $15 million over 25 years.
The agreement with the Renegades still must be approved by Major League Baseball. The Dutchess Legislature on Monday (June 14) approved the deal and the purchase of the school land, although all 10 Democratic legislators, including Nick Page and Frits Zernike, who represent Beacon, voted against the contract with the Renegades, saying it does not reflect the spirit of the $1.9 trillion Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law in March.
The American Rescue Plan is intended to help communities recover from the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including offsetting lost revenues, reinforcing essential services and restoring the local economy.
“I’m a baseball fan but, please, let’s not put this public money toward this,” Page said on Wednesday, noting that the project will use up the majority of the county’s first $16.3 million appropriation from the stimulus package. “Don’t give our pennies to this when there are people who are still hurting” from the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Molinaro announced a Dutchess Invests initiative to allocate stimulus money in four categories: supporting children; jobs, infrastructure and public safety; county parks; and community partnerships.
“We have been engaged in ongoing dialogue with residents across Dutchess County through formal public meetings, our town hall conversations, one-on-one discussions, even connecting through social media, and they have made their priorities clear,” he said.
County parks will receive the most money, more than $17 million, the bulk of which is earmarked for Dutchess Stadium, a park that Dutchess Comptroller Robin Lois last year said “does not provide public access for resident enjoyment and is operated by a for-profit entity” in an audit she prepared for the Legislature.
Rather than stadium improvements, Democrats on Monday proposed a series of amendments that would have directed stimulus funding toward youth programs, mental health services, water quality improvements and a tax rebate to property taxpayers. All were voted down by the full Legislature.
The remainder of the first federal infusion will be spent on a countywide broadband survey ($350,000); an airport project supporting Dutchess Community College’s new aviation training program ($350,000); and $3.1 million in grants for children and youth programs, primarily through libraries, arts organizations and sports leagues.
The $12.5 million will allow the county to make what Molinaro called “transformative” changes to the ballpark by constructing a new clubhouse for the team and building pitching and batting areas, as well as a new seating area and enclosed event space — improvements Dutchess says are required by Major League Baseball now that the Renegades will play 60 or more games at home, about twice what they played as a lower-level Tampa Bay affiliate.
By utilizing stimulus funding, the county will save more than $2.5 million in interest it would have paid using bond funding, he said.
Since 2018, the Legislature has already authorized spending nearly $4 million on improvements to the stadium. Yet the facility cost the county an average of $170,000 more annually to operate than it brought in via lease payments over the past five years, Lois wrote last year in the stadium audit.
Given that disparity, the county should “continue swiftly” in negotiating with the Renegades on a long-term lease, she wrote.
Click to hear this post.