EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 20, 2013

Holes in stadium stands

Mayor, council at odds over sports complex repairs

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — The mayor and City Council are at odds over how to come up with $2 million to repair crumbling sections of grandstand and install new lights at Trinity Stadium.

The council and the city’s Stadium Commission, which oversees the sports complex on Lincoln Avenue, want Mayor James Fiorentini to apply for stadium renovation money from a state program called Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities, or PARC for short.

The grant program can provide up to $400,000 a year for eligible projects. The deadline to apply for the next round of awards is July 17.

City Councilor William Ryan, the council’s representative on the Stadium Commission, urged Fiorentini this week to seek the state grant for the stadium.

“It’s not only a tremendous asset, but it generates revenue for the city,” Ryan said of the 77-year-old complex, formerly called Haverhill Stadium. “It should be our top priority until it’s finished.”

Fiorentini said he plans to file several application for PARC grant money, but not for the stadium.

The mayor said he wants PARC money to make improvements to Winnekenni Park and for the new rail trail the city is developing on the Bradford side of the Merrimack River, opposite the downtown. Fiorentini also indicated he does not believe the state would allow PARC grant money to be used to repair a stadium.

“It’s for parks, not stadiums,” the mayor said. “The state would not allow it.

“No one wants to see the stadium finished more than me,’’ he said. “But I don’t want to raise the public’s expectations for the stadium. I prefer to under-promise and over-deliver.”

Ryan didn’t like the mayor’s response. He told Fiorentini to apply for the money and then blame the council and Stadium Commission if the grant is rejected.

“We are all on record that this is what we want,” Ryan told the mayor. “You’ll be off the hook if it’s rejected. All you have to do is submit the application.”

Fiorentini said he doesn’t want to be “off the hook.”

“The buck stops here,” the mayor said. “I’ll apply for the stadium only if I think there’s a chance we can get it. And right now I don’t.”

Renovations to the structure began in 2006. Since then, the state has provided about $3 million, most of it to repair two of the five grandstand sections, fix structural problems and replace the grass field with artificial turf.

Tom O’Brien, chairman of the Stadium Commission and the high school athletic director, told councilors last month that finishing the renovation would eventually pay for itself by boosting the facility’s rental potential and transforming it into one of the premier sports venues in New England.

“Opportunities for Haverhill sports and recreational activities will be greatly enhanced and organizers from all over New England will come to our great community to use this great facility,” O’Brien told the council last month.

Requests to rent the stadium by sports teams, summer camps and for events have taken off since the initial repairs and artificial turf was installed two years ago, O’Brien said. But he added there’s great potential for further growth once the renovation is completed.

He said other parts of the facility that need to be repaired include the brick wall that surrounds the stadium, locker rooms and the parking lot. The stadium also needs a new press box that must include an elevator due to accessibility laws, he said.

The unrenovated sections of grandstand are crumbling and closed to the public, O’Brien said.

“The bleachers are an eyesore (to people) driving by,” he said. “And that’s unfortunate because it prevents many people from seeing the beauty inside (the stadium walls).”

The cost of finishing the entire project is $4.7 million, O’Brien said.

He said the city’s commitment to the stadium in the annual budget has fallen to just $9,000 per year, barely enough to pay the electric bills.

O’Brien said the stadium generates $40,000 per year in advertising revenue and $25,000 in rental income. About a third of that money pays for operating costs and the rest goes into the renovation fund, he said.

He agreed with the mayor that replacing the stadium lights is the top priority. He said the facility is so poorly illuminated that he no longer allows lacrosse games to be played there at night.

“There’s barely enough light to meet the requirements for baseball,” O’Brien said. “To attract semi-pro and college teams, we need to improve the lighting.”

Fiorentini said he is eyeing a separate energy grant that could pay for new lights.