VERO BEACH — The Vero Beach Sports Village isn’t out to make money. But the partnership that operates the facility is unwilling to shoulder additional losses.
That’s why after six months of negotiations, Verotown LLC partners won’t be exercising an option with Indian River County to renew its five-year contract, which expires in May 2014.
Vero Beach Sports Village Vice President Craig Callan estimated losses approaching $2 million since the facility opened.
“We lost $1 million the first year, a half-million the second year, and a quarter-million the third year and a little bit this year,” Callan said. “It’s not the county that lost it; it’s our joint venture that lost it and we’re continuing to invest in the facility.”
Minor League Baseball Inc. signed the original lease in May 2009 as the sole operator but eventually sought additional investors to help mitigate its losses. In January 2012, Verotown LLC was formed, led by former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, CEO of the partnership.
O’Malley’s resolve to keep the former Dodgertown operational serves to keep the history of the facility alive.
“This isn’t business to Peter; this is a love for the facility,” Callan said. “He doesn’t want this place to be forgotten. Keeping it alive and making it a viable business model is important.”
To that end, Callan said O’Malley has pledged to invest any profits the Vero Beach Sports Village earns back into the property.
The facility is seeking a similar commitment from Indian River County, which has benefited greatly from the estimated $21 million in total economic impact it’s provided for the community in the past three years.
“All we’re asking is for them to continue what they’ve been doing since they’ve owned the property – fund their asset,” Callan said.
The primary dispute involves the facility’s capital improvement fund, which is down to about $800,000 after starting at $2 million when the original lease was signed. According to the lease extension, Indian River County would contribute $50,000 per year to the fund that would be matched by Verotown.
Any improvements beyond that would be the responsibility of the partnership.
That’s not enough for Verotown, which also pays $150,000 in monthly maintenance expenses, to implement its plans for the next five years, which include possibly gaining permission from the Dodgers to use the name “Historic Dodgertown” for the facility.
“We can’t be responsible for capital expenditures because we don’t own the facility,” Callan said. “It’s like living in someone’s house and the central air goes down and you have to pay for it.”
Indian River County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan acknowledged the Vero Beach Sports Village has been an economic boom for the community.
“But we have to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “If their business model is going to work, they have to do it without more and more influx of taxpayer dollars.”
In a March 5 meeting, Indian River commissioners voted to increase the county’s annual contribution to the Sports Village’s capital improvement fund to $150,000. They also agreed to spend the $600,000 remaining in the fund to renovate the facility’s four-decade-old villas, provided Verotown agrees to a new five-year lease.
O’Bryan said if the partnership doesn’t sign the new lease within a 30-day window that expires in early April, the county will formally issue a request for propsoals from other entitites interested in leasing the facility.
“I think it’s just the nature of negotiations and business,” he said. “Everybody’s doing what they’ve got to do as part of the dance.
“But from my point of view the door is definitely not closed for (Verotown).”