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Little Revenue Offered by Stadium, Reports Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearly a year after developers made their first pitch for a minor league baseball stadium, long-awaited financial reports show that the $18.7-million project known as Centerplex would generate little revenue and drain city coffers for at least four years.

The reports sent to the City Council on Tuesday set the stage for what is expected to be a fierce debate between city leaders who support the plan and those who question whether it is a sound investment.

“It would be wonderful to have a stadium but not at the expense of the citizens,” said Councilman Gary Tuttle, who has criticized the project. “I would support [it] if they could show me budget cuts that are less important, and I don’t think they can.”

But some council members say a baseball stadium and sports complex built behind the Ventura Auto Center would benefit the community, boost car sales and eventually turn a profit for the city.

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“You are going to see revenue generated,” said Mayor Jack Tingstrom, a leading supporter of Centerplex. “If it wasn’t a good product, there wouldn’t be three or four other cities trying to get it.”

Private developers recently unveiled similar plans for minor league ballparks near Camarillo Airport and at College Park in Oxnard.

But Tuttle says there is a key difference among the competing projects: money.

“I don’t see those cities stepping up to the plate and spending all this money to take a hit,” he said.

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The ambitious Centerplex project, which will be discussed by the City Council on Monday, would largely be financed with taxpayer dollars--forcing the city to dig deep into reserves or ask voters to approve a tax increase.

The plan includes a 5,000-seat baseball stadium, a golf driving range and an aquatics center sporting water slides and a swimming pool.

The multipurpose stadium, which would also serve as an off-season concert venue, would bring Class A minor league baseball back to Ventura after a decade. The region’s only minor league team, the Ventura Gulls, flew the coop in 1986 after one season marked by low attendance.

But supporters of the project say the Gulls suffered because the team lacked an adequate facility. The new stadium would be built on 22 acres near the Ventura Freeway and could draw fans from around the county.

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Critics acknowledge that a minor league baseball stadium is an alluring proposal, but question whether it is a worthwhile investment.

Financial reports show that the project would lose about $107,000 a year for its first four years, and generate only $32,000 annually in the next four.

Although the city would make about $799,000 in rental payments from the developer, the cost of operating and maintaining the facility is expected to total $766,000.

Consultants hired by the city say the proposal should be viewed as a community benefit--a project that would bring 70 baseball games to local fans--not as a project aimed at economic development.

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“What they found is that the stadium itself works very well as a community amenity, there is a strong demand for baseball,” said David Kleitsch, the city’s economic development manager. “What it doesn’t cover is debt service.”

The city’s consultants identified various ways to finance the stadium, including a $21.4-million general obligation bond that would be paid back by a property tax increase. If the bond were approved by Ventura voters, homeowners would pay an additional $40 in annual property taxes.

The City Council could also elect to dip into millions in city reserves, or negotiate a lease agreement in which the developer would be responsible for operating losses but earn a portion of the revenues.

The council will be asked to review the financial analysis on Monday, and decide whether to establish an ad hoc committee to study the various funding options.

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“I think it is fair to say that the proposals that have been knocked around include city contribution,” Kleitsch said. “Clearly the question for the recommended ad hoc committee is to look at this more thoroughly.”

Supporters of the project say the capital cost for the stadium would eventually balance out.

“If you look at it over a 10- or 15-year period, the benefit is there,” Councilman Jim Friedman said. “If we don’t start taking a proactive stance . . . we are really going to be in trouble years from now.”

The project’s developer, Hofer Enterprises, submitted a proposal to the city last year for the development of a sports center.

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The company, which owns the auto mall, wanted to build a stadium and other sports facilities to draw people off the nearby Ventura Freeway and into the car dealerships.

The auto mall is the city’s top source of sales tax revenue, so council members were receptive to the idea.

But the reports submitted to the council Tuesday show that benefits from the stadium to Ventura car dealerships would only range from $60,000 to $120,000.

The report said the auto center is not dependent on the development of Centerplex, since many car dealerships have recovered from the economic slump of the early 1990s.

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But Tingstrom said he takes issue with some of the report’s findings.

“The auto center is going to reap benefits,” he said. “In the very near future you will see the spinoff.”

Another benefit would be construction of a much-needed community pool within the Centerplex complex. But the documents include an analysis of two competing proposals to build a community pool at either Buena High School or at a yet-to-be-built east Ventura park.

In light of these proposals, city staff members recommended that the council consider the baseball stadium and swimming pool issues separately.

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Council members said they want to take a closer look at the inch-thick stack of reports delivered to them Tuesday. “From the very beginning, I have always liked the stadium in concept,” Friedman said. “It is an amenity that our community dearly needs . . . we need to at least explore it.”


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