The demise of the Newark Bears (independent; Can-Am League) leaves the city of Newark on the hook for $14 million in debt payments on Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium.
The Bears, under different ownership groups, had been committed to paying $60,000 a year in rent — still not close to paying off the million-dollar yearly bond payment, but it’s still a start. The Bears went under earlier this spring and liquidated all assets. The ballpark is still in use by Rutgers University, Newark and New Jersey Institute of Technology (a surprisingly good baseball program, by the way), but that doesn’t come close to covering the debt payment. The city is now looking at some alternative uses for the ballpark:
The $34 million Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, envisioned as a pillar of development in the state’s most populous city when it opened in 1999, is mostly silent this season after the Newark Bears folded amid dwindling attendance. The owners are trying to sell the club after putting belongings, including the team bus, up for auction in April.
Taxpayers in Newark and surrounding Essex County are left with a combined $2 million a year in debt payments. The expense is the last thing the city of 280,000 needs: It faces a budget shortfall of as much as $94 million and is at risk of falling under state oversight. Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating to three steps above junk last month, citing depleted reserves and budget gaps.
“They have a tight budget to begin with,” said Howard Cure, head of municipal research in New York at Evercore Wealth Management LLC, which oversees about $5.2 billion. “They don’t need to pay for an asset that’s not being productive.”
The reconstituted Newark Bears got off to a strong start with former Yankees catcher Rick Cerone spearheading the new independent Atlantic League team in 1998. The team drew well in the early days, with the likes of Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson and Jose Lima donning Bears uniforms in attempts to return to the bigs. But after Cerone sold the team in 2003, subsequent owners never made baseball work at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, and a 2010 move to the Can-Am League didn’t stop the slide.
RELATED STORIES: Newark Bears to liquidate assets
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