Sea Dogs win clubhouse in extra innings
Team gives up $1M in last-minute pitch
By Chris Busby
The Portland Sea Dogs will get their new clubhouse, but the team had to shave over $1 million from its new 20-year contract with the city to keep playing on publicly owned Hadlock Field. As part of a last-minute pitch to win City Council approval of the clubhouse, the team had also agreed to pay for it, rather than ask the city to borrow money for the project.
Portland Maine Baseball, Inc., the company that owns the minor league franchise, will pay the city an annual rent of $150,000 during the first five full years of the new deal. By the year 2024, the Dogs’ lease will be $225,000. The team is taking over maintenance of the field and bearing that cost, too, though the city is giving them nearly $70,000 worth of maintenance equipment and about $75,000 in parking revenues every year.
Still, overall, the city’s costs under the new deal decline over the next two decades compared to previous proposals floated by the team.
Portland Maine Baseball (PMB) originally asked city officials to borrow $1.7 million for a new home-team clubhouse under right field – and said the clubhouse deal could make or break the team’s affiliation with the Boston Red Sox.
Several city councilors expressed concern that borrowing for the team’s private clubhouse this year would delay funding for public improvement projects like roads, sidewalks and schools. The council has a self-imposed cap that limits bonding for such projects at $10 million per year. Some councilors also voiced objection to the city subsidizing the for-profit enterprise at a time of tight municipal budgets.
In the end, the city scored on both points.
Having realized they lacked the super-majority of seven council votes necessary to pass the bond order, the team dropped that plan and proposed paying for the clubhouse itself last week. But as late as this weekend, the deal on the table before councilors would have required the city to continue to maintain the field for the Dogs and for high school baseball games at Hadlock. Together with other expenses and lease arrangements, the cost to the city over 20 years would have approached $3 million. That’s almost $1 million more than taxpayers would have shelled out under the original proposal involving a bond.
The deal approved Monday night will cost the city $1.7 million over 20 years – perhaps coincidentally, the same cost to construct the clubhouse.
Assistant City Manager Anita LaChance said “feedback” from councilors last Friday – when terms of the previous proposal were made public in advance of Monday’s council meeting – prompted renegotiations early Monday morning. Councilors received the revised lease proposal just minutes before their special afternoon session, which began at 5 p.m.
Sea Dogs president and general manager Charlie Eshbach conceded to councilors that with Monday’s revised deal, PMB had “made a financial commitment far in excess of what we were comfortable with” when the process began in March.
Several members of the public spoke against the latest arrangement, citing the ongoing subsidy, and representatives of several local non-profits that benefit from Sea Dog-related charity work spoke in favor of the latest proposal.
The new lease was unanimously approved.