Binghamton and the Ball ParkPosted: August 3, 2015
Twenty two years ago the City of Binghamton took on a stadium project that the Broome County Government had turned down. For the County, the building of a baseball stadium was a bad financial deal. The County legislature was correct: subsidized stadiums are a drain on the taxpayers. Stadiums, from major league sports complexes to smaller stadiums like here in Binghamton do not produce the benefits promised and cost taxpayers big bucks. When the score is added up, the people lose on stadiums big and small.
What Binghamton Contributed
Binghamton bought the property on Henry St. for $400,000 and paid an additional $110,000 to clear crumbling warehouses from the lot. The city then borrowed $1.4 for the project from NYS which was repaid over a number of years. The city leased the cleaned property to the Binghamton Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) for $1 a year. BURA was a paper organization whose Board of Directors was composed of City employees appointed by then Mayor Crabb.
The stadium itself was built by the NY Mets organization but the team franchise is privately owned.
Binghamton used over $800,000 of money designated by the Federal Government to improve the lives of low/moderate income residents to rebuild the section of Henry St. where the stadium was to be constructed. New sidewalks and curbs were constructed and the telephone poles were moved away from the stadium side of the street. The city also paid for the installation of the stadium’s water and sewer lines. No figure for this pipe work is available. The City does not charge a water-and-sewer bill for the stadium despite long running concerns over the future of the jointly owned sewage treatment plant.
BURA paid the stadium developers – the NY Mets, $746,155 over five years to offset the Mets debt. To apologize for this payment to the Mets, Kevin McLaughlin, Binghamton’s Economic Development Director at the time, was quoted as saying “sure we are helping them with the bank side but they are taking on the liability and hazard insurance and all those other things.” McLaughlin is now director of the Broome County Industrial Development Agency. BURA was also responsible for an additional $372,000 to the Mets if the parking lot did not bring in the estimated income. The lot never did pay off as the charge was $20 per car while there was an abundance of private parking for $5- $10 plus free street parking.
- BURA is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance and major repairs for the stadium.
- The city paid a $150,000 developer fee.
- Since 1993 the City has paid the owners of the team $50,000 annually.
NYS $$$ for the Stadium
NYS Senator Libous provided one million dollars to convert the stadium outfield from grass to a combination of grass and artificial turf. The City paid to have it installed. This made the maintenance much cheaper. Senator Libous was ready to put in another $500,000 of NYS funds to help the owners renovate the stadium. But that is now on hold. Senator Libous, has an ad for himself on the outfield wall.
Public Holding the Bag
In 2015 dollars the public has a financial stake of well over $6 million. Yet we own no team, we own no ballpark.
Is the Team Leaving?
According to the Press proposed sale of the franchise could leave Binghamton without a team. The owners of the team have been attempting to sell the team for a couple of years. The price for the Mets franchise could realize the owners between $4-5 million.
What Financial Returns Do the Taxpayers Get for Their Investment?
Since the stadium was built on land owned by the City no property taxes paid have ever been paid. The team keeps all revenue from sky box seats, broadcast contracts, ticket sales, advertising and concessions. The income from the naming rights for the stadium, NYSEG Stadium, went to the Mets. This, I should note, has been the norm since the 1970s in most stadium construction projects across the nation: taxpayer investment for private profit.
Contrary to what then Mayor Crabb said “this project promises wonderful economic development opportunities for the city”. She forgot to add: just not for the residents.
How Are Taxpayers to Protect Themselves?
All residents of the area must demand to see complete contracts for all schemes that require public funds and tax breaks. The way our corporations and politicians can continue to pull the financial wool over our eyes is to keep the full details of all economic development contracts complex, confusing and with details hidden from the taxpayers. We must have access to the whole package.
Politicians Add a Development Feather to Their Cap—and Move On
It is not just the stadium. It is years of complex “economic development” projects that were to open up opportunities for our workers and taxpayers that have not paid off except for the developers and the banks. While our community continues to sink into the economic abyss, these deals are still costing us dearly. Mayor Crabb and those on City Council who approved the stadium deal are no longer in the City Government. In their stead, however, we continue to employ corporately controlled politicians who keep approving publicly sponsored deals that we are still paying for while getting few benefits.
When you hear politicians and developers use the term “public-private partnership—hold onto your wallet.