Millions in losses still plague Big League Dreams ballpark in Gilbert

GILBERT, AZ - When Big League Dreams opened in January 2008, Gilbert leaders touted the project as a major money-maker for the town.

But, times have changed. The mayor, town manager and entire town council who brought the project to Gilbert are gone. And now, the town's new leadership admits Gilbert will likely never recoup its investment.

"I don't see a situation where this project will ever flow to the black," Gilbert Town Manager Patrick Banger said.

Big League Dreams was built for more than $40 million. Paid for with bonds, the final price tag is $53 million, because of interest.

The ABC15 Investigators have reviewed contracts, financial statements and tax records related to the Big League Dreams complex. Those figures show that Gilbert will receive roughly $200,000 to $300,000 a year in revenue.

See the financial statements for Big League Dreams in 2010

Based just on the park's receipts, it will take the town more than 250 years to break even.

"It's built. It's here. We spent the money that we spent on it," Banger said. "All I can do now is move forward."

THE DEAL

Based in California, Big League Dreams is a company that operates more than a dozen ballparks in cities and towns across the country.

Gilbert's version is an eight-field baseball complex that also has an indoor sports facility.

In its deal with Big League Dreams, Gilbert agreed to build the complex in exchange for 6 percent of the park's revenue.

Read the full agreement between Gilbert and Big League Dreams

"The math doesn't work on this," said Tom Jenney, president of government watchdog Americans for Prosperity. "Taxpayers are not getting a good deal."

Jenney warned about the project before it was built.

The rising construction costs would signal years of future tension and controversy for the town and Big League Dreams.

Initial estimates to build the Big League Dreams complex were a little more than $22 million. But those costs climbed throughout construction, jumping multiple times before hitting $42 million.

Richard Odekirk, a Big League Dreams chief officer, said his company has no explanation for why the costs increased so dramatically from estimates. He said that another project with similar specifications was built for $20 million less and that they have not had similar issues with other cities.

Records confirm that Gilbert oversaw the construction process and chose the builder.

WHERE'S THE MONEY?

So far, Big League Dreams has not paid any money to Gilbert since the park opened.

The contract states revenue-sharing would begin after the first "partial operating year" and third "full operating year."

Gilbert officials expected to start seeing money this spring. But Big League Dreams believes that the contract states that any revenue wouldn't be shared until next year.

Both sides have been discussing the issue for months.

Gilbert spokesperson Beth Lucas said the two sides are making progress and hope to have a decision soon.

THE FUTURE

Big League Dreams and Gilbert leaders admit there is tension between them.

"There needs to be two-way communication" Banger said. "If there is an issue, we need to get it to the forefront."

Both sides said they are committed to making the project a success. However, it's unclear if the partnership could dissolve and put Gilbert on the hook for running the park.

"I would hope not. I don't think it will," Banger said. "But you know what? If it did, I can assure you that we would have plans in place."

Banger said he is focused on finding ways to maximize the park's ability to generate extra revenue for the town.

Previous leaders in Gilbert claimed the project would bring thousands of tourists to Gilbert who would spend money at hotels and restaurants.

However, there are no hotels within a few miles of the project. According to hotel tax records, Gilbert generated only about $240,000 in hotel tax receipts last year.

"Like I said before, my job is to find a way to squeeze all the value out of (Big League Dreams) that we can," Banger said.
 

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