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Ten years and $35 million later: assessing Eastlake’s Classic Park

Lake County CaptainsIt was presented to Eastlake (OH) voters as a no-cost amenity that will end up costing local taxpayers some $35 million: assessing the worth of Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (Low Class A; Midwest League).

When former Mayor Dan DiLiberto first brought up the idea of a new ballpark for the Ohio community, he pitched it as a no-cost amenity that would increase the quality life for locals. New revenues generated by pro baseball, he argued, would be more than enough to cover debt service on a new facility. A team, the Columbus RedStixx (Low Class A; Sally League), was all set to move from Georgia to Ohio and be part of the dream.

But the financials presented by DiLiberto and approved by the City Council were closer to fantasy than grounded in reality. Shortly after the ballpark opened the city was forced to cover debt service through general-fund expenditures. DiLiberto left office, and some of the councilmembers paid a political price imposed by disapproving voters. The ballpark and some other poorly conceived expenditures pushed the city to the brink of financial insolvency.

Of course, the ballpark was conceived during a go-go time in the ecomony (a lot of bad ideas were hatched before 9/11), but the experience of Eastlake taxpayers is a cautionary tale for any city looking to finance a ballpark. You don’t see too many deals where general funds are pledged as a funding source of last resort — though Hillsboro did exactly that in planning a new ballpark for the Northwest League — and there certainly were some odd dynamics in pay here unlikely to be replicated any time soon. The News-Herald is in the midst of a series looking back at the ballpark’s funding issues and how they were solved; the first story is here.


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