FBI Investigates how Taxpayers Ended up Paying for Baseball Stadium They Voted Against

Monday, December 30, 2013
Christopher St. Lawrence (photo: Ricky Flores, White Plains Journal News)

Residents of Ramapo, New York, decided overwhelmingly three years ago that they didn’t want their city to borrow $16.5 million just to build a minor league baseball park. And yet, local taxpayers today are on the hook for the stadium’s exploding costs.

 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now probing the deal and Ramapo’s top official: Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence.

 

St. Lawrence really wanted to bring minor-league baseball to his town, located nearly 40 miles outside New York City. But Ramapo would first need to build a stadium. Such an initiative was going to cost about $20 million, St. Lawrence said.

 

To cover this expenditure, the town council led, by St. Lawrence, proposed that Ramapo commit to $16.5 million in long-term bonds. This arrangement, though, required voter approval. When the matter appeared on the local ballot, more than 70% of residents rejected it.

 

But St. Lawrence was determined to get his stadium. So he convinced council members to invest in short-term bonds totaling $25 million—a move that didn’t require voters’ support.

 

This decision allowed Provident Bank Park to become a reality in 2011, featuring amenities like club suites and field-side taverns. But, now, the town is saddled with debt, including $60 million in stadium-related expenses, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

 

“This is the most dramatic scenario with a stadium I've heard of,” John Dittrich, a 40-year administrative veteran of professional baseball, told Bloomberg News.  “If taxpayers are mad about the way it went down, they're not going to be customers, and it hurts.”

 

To make matters worse, Moody's Investors Service reduced Ramapo’s rating, down to A1, because of its “considerable exposure” to the stadium debt, plus two years of deficits.

 

The FBI is still investigating St. Lawrence and the stadium deal.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

FBI Ramapo Probe Shows Risks of Minor-League Stadium Boom (by Freeman Klopott, Bloomberg News)

Baseball Successfully Invokes Anti-Trust Exemption to Block Move by Oakland A’s (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

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