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Poughkeepsie… Earlier this week, members of the Dutchess County Legislature voted down a capital funding resolution for essential safety improvements at one of Dutchess County’s parks, Dutchess Stadium in the Town of Fishkill, jeopardizing a new 20-year lease with the Hudson Valley Renegades. The $3 million bond authorization is necessary to fund repairs and maintenance at the 25-year-old facility including repair of the concrete seating structure, seating replacement, and repair and replacement of the parking lot with new lighting and drainage. The funding authorization was defeated despite several other capital projects totaling more than $8.8 million in county funds being authorized, including roof projects at Dutchess Community College, expansion of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, and additional funding to build an educational hangar at the Hudson Valley Regional Airport in conjunction with Dutchess Community College. The vote can be reconsidered at the December 3rd board meeting and residents are urged to reach out to their county legislator before the meeting.
Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro said, “We are proud to be the owner of Dutchess Stadium. It is a tremendous county asset that countless families have enjoyed over the past 25 years. When you own a facility, you have an obligation to keep it in good repair and ensure safe operations. We have a tenant, the Hudson Valley Renegades, who wish to continue to use Dutchess Stadium to offer family entertainment and fun for residents and visitors for the next 20 years. However, without these repairs, we cannot ensure the operational safety of the facility for the public and this puts both the County as landlord and the Hudson Valley Renegades as operators at risk and that is not acceptable.”
Dutchess Stadium is home to the Renegades, a popular minor league baseball team, as well as host to hundreds of annual community events including high school graduations, entertainment shows and non-profit events. In addition to the minor league baseball schedule, hundreds of local high school, college and recreational baseball and other sports games are played at Dutchess Stadium each year.
Basic maintenance and repairs are done each year at Dutchess Stadium by the Dutchess County Department of Public Works funded through the department’s operating budget and offset by revenue received from the current lease with the Renegades. This funding request will allow for more significant and necessary work: repair the concrete seating area, which has deteriorated over more than two decades. The deterioration is allowing water to penetrate, accelerating the damage and causing problems to areas under the seating including bathrooms, mechanical rooms and storage areas. The stadium’s original seating will also be replaced, having gone well beyond the standard useful life of 15 to 20 years.
The Hudson Valley Renegades operate Dutchess Stadium under a lease agreement that expires on December 31, 2018. The County has been engaged in negotiations with the team for nearly two years and both parties have finally come to an agreement in principal for a long-term, 20-year lease that would begin with a 5-year commitment from the Renegades detailed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU is expected to be signed this year, contingent on funding authorization for the basic repairs and maintenance items to be addressed in time for the 2019 season. The $3 million funding for the 2019 repairs is part of a larger, comprehensive plan for Dutchess Stadium that totals $7.5 million. The plan was successfully submitted for an Empire State Development Grant of $1.5 million, which is awarded on a matching basis with the state providing 20% funding and the county providing 80%. Dutchess County’s total $6 million investment will be offset by revenue generated in the proposed 20-year lease with the Hudson Valley Renegades.
“This has been a lengthy, ongoing process. We were awarded the Empire State Development grant last year. We have been negotiating diligently with the Renegades for many, many months and finally have an agreement in principle that protects our taxpayers while continuing to provide family fun at a popular county park. The need for repairs at Dutchess Stadium is not news, and the claims by some legislators that this process was rushed is disingenuous. We have provided comprehensive information, as we have for any other facility project, and have responded to questions when asked. We are hopeful the legislators who voted no will reconsider their vote and move this forward,” said County Executive Molinaro.
Delaying action until next year is not an option and will hinder lease negotiations while opening the County to significant liability. Additionally, any delay will risk price escalation that the County has already experienced with other projects as the volume of construction activity in the region continues to swell and demand drives up cost.
Further complicating the issue, while Dutchess County owns Dutchess Stadium, the facility sits on land owned by Beacon City School District. The County has a land lease with the school district, which also expires on December 31, 2018. Unless a new contract is signed with the school district, the current agreement states Dutchess Stadium ownership will revert to the school district when the lease expires. Representatives from the Beacon City School District have indicated they prefer to see the lease arrangement continue, with the County maintaining ownership of the stadium and being responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.
“Without authority from the Dutchess County Legislature to make necessary repairs and maintenance to this 25-year-old facility to ensure its safe operation, I cannot, in good faith, negotiate agreements that would continue us to be owner and landlord of a facility we don’t have the ability to properly maintain,” said County Executive Molinaro. “The County has been put on notice of necessary safety and maintenance repairs. If we do not make the repairs and the Hudson Valley Renegades continue to operate, the County will be assuming the liability for any accidents or incidents that may occur, and that is a risk we cannot expose taxpayers to. Additionally, if the repairs are not made, the Renegades will not commit to a long-term lease.”
Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Gregg Pulver said, “The Democratic caucus, unfortunately, appears to have been biased against this project from the outset. Their statement disagreeing with renovations to ‘improve fan experience’ and their vote against needed safety repairs and maintenance demonstrates their disregard for the safety of residents and visitors who want to enjoy Dutchess Stadium. We have an obligation to ensure safety for fans as part of their experience at this county park and urge our Democratic colleagues to look again at the detailed information presented and reconsider their vote, so we can make the needed repairs and ensure the continued safe operation of Dutchess Stadium.”
The Dutchess County Legislature can reconsider the bond resolution at the December 3rd board meeting. Legislator Alan Surman preserved the ability to make a motion of reconsideration during the next board meeting by voting against the bond (as is common in legislative bodies) - a procedural process to ensure the resolution could be reconsidered at the next Legislative board meeting. Residents are encouraged to reach out to legislators who voted the resolution down and urge them to reconsider:
“Some of my family’s happiest memories have been at Dutchess Stadium and we look forward to many more memories to be made there for our family and families across the region. I strongly urge the legislators to reconsider this vote - if the County is going to continue to own a stadium, and I certainly hope we are, we have a responsibility to ensure it is operationally safe for use,” concluded County Executive Molinaro