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Big challenges with new California ballparks

California LeagueWith the elimination of community redevelopment agencies, it’s almost impossible to get a new ballpark built in California — as a group organizing in Sonoma County is finding out the hard way.

We’ve known Chris Lee for a long time now, and for years he’s been spearheading a move toward a new ballpark in Sonoma County. And there’s no doubt the area, given its demographics and location, would be a great addition to the High A California League, where efforts to upgrade facilities have been blunted by the lack of public funds in recent years. The same issues that killed new-ballpark efforts in Chico, Bakersfield and Salinas were also found in Sonoma County, as Lee outlines in this op-ed:

Among those involved with affiliated baseball in California, there is no disagreement about Sonoma County’s suitability. Nor is there a lack of potential investors willing to spend the $5+ million required to buy an existing team. The problem is how to build a stadium. And this is the crux of my 10-year campaign.

In 2005, we proposed a public-private partnership to build a ballpark. The effort quickly failed. In 2011, after the Town of Windsor expanded its redevelopment zone, there was real momentum to build a ballpark in the northern part of the town. The redevelopment funding component was critical, A few months later, Gov. Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies. We were back to square one.

“So why not pay for it yourself?” you might ask. Here’s the math: a modest ballpark that meets the affiliated baseball specification seats about 5,000 and costs roughly $25 million. While an affiliated team has the staying power to take on long-term debt, it would be on the edge of insolvency if it paid debt service on more than $10 million. So, best case, there’s a $15 million gap. In many states, local government would pay the whole $25 million on the promise that the ballpark is an economic catalyst. But if you’re a city or county struggling to meet budget obligations, this opportunity never quite warrants your full attention. And that’s a shame.

Raising private funds for a new Sonoma County ballpark will be a huge challenge.

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