Ramapo's decision to refinance Provident Bank Park sparks state concerns

Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence spends time Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence spends time at Provident Bank Park, home of the Rockland Boulders, in Pomona. (May 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence signed off on the refinancing of Provident Bank Park despite not knowing how the stadium fared financially in 2012, sparking concern and outrage from the state comptroller as well as local residents.

St. Lawrence, who heads the town-backed Local Development Corporation, and LDC board members John Brunson and Moses Gross on Thursday extended the initial five-year, $25 million bond financing for the 2-year-old Pomona ballpark to a debt that would be paid off over the next three decades, LDC attorney Aaron Troodler told Newsday. The move follows the Ramapo Town Board's approval of the refinancing in December.

The LDC, which was created by the town specifically to facilitate the building of the $39 million ballpark and therefore owns the stadium, had been liable for payments of at least $5 million a year for the old bond. The new bonds reduce those payments to around $1.5 million annually.

While the terms of the refinancing seem favorable, to some critics of the ballpark, it also raised red flags, particularly with revenue figures from 2012 still not available, five months after the stadium's tenants, independent baseball's Rockland Boulders, finished off their season. In addition to paying rent to the LDC, the Boulders also have a complex revenue sharing agreement with the agency.

"Short of them coming up with new figures, I'm not sure how this is going to alleviate any of the concerns of the initial audit," said Brian Butry, a spokesman for state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, referring to an investigation his office conducted in February 2012 that raised questions about the ballpark's revenue estimates.

The decision to refinance has only exacerbated the concerns found in the 2012 probe, said Butry, who added that this could spark another audit from the comptroller.

St. Lawrence has already come under attack for helping to push through the construction of the stadium, despite voters having rejected by more 70 percent a referendum to issue bonds to build it.

St. Lawrence as well as Boulders president, Ken Lehner, did not immediately respond to requests for the stadium's revenue figures or comment Friday. Attempts to reach Brunson and Gross were unsuccessful.

However, Troodler defended the refinancing, calling the new 30-year loan from Wells Fargo taken at a 3.39 interest rate "fantastic."

"What that'll do is reduce our annual debt service over the life of the loan," Troodler said. "It's a considerable amount of money. It alleviates whatever financial pressures [there are] to make big payments over the next couple of years, resulting in a cost savings to the LDC."

Troodler insisted the decision to refinance was not due to an inability of the LDC to pay its hefty bills on the five-year note.

"We are very comfortable that moving forward, the revenue generated from baseball or nonbaseball events will be enough to pay," Troodler said.

While town officials had hoped to get revenue numbers from the Boulders this month, they have not yet set a meeting to discuss the finances. Nevertheless, town officials said they are "confident" that increased attendance numbers mean higher revenue numbers are on their way.

In 2012, attendance was 161,375, which put the Boulders at the top of the list of all five teams in the independent Canadian-American League.

In 2011, the Rockland Boulders' inaugural season, 123,704 people attended games, which helped generate a total $734,101 in revenue. However, that fell short of the $1 million a consultant projected the ballpark would make.

St. Lawrence has attributed the 2011 revenue number to a late start in the season and the limited number of private events that were held.

Michael Castelluccio, spokesman for the local political watchdog group Preserve Ramapo, called the LDC "a sinkhole," insisting that the stadium would not generate enough money, leaving the town -- and ultimately the taxpayers -- to pay off the debt.

"They're not making that kind of money at the ballpark -- and they never will," Castelluccio said.

Troodler said he's not concerned about the Boulders being able to generate enough revenue.

"They're enhancing marketing efforts, community efforts, they're doing everything possible to ensure fan base increases," Troodler said.

Subscribe to Newsday’s sports newsletter for stories, photos and videos about your favorite New York teams plus national sports news and events.

You also may be interested in: