The City of Novato recently released three studies about the proposed commercial Sports Complex at Hamilton Field. The three technical studies were prepared for the City as part of the preliminary application review process. The studies were funded by the applicants.
The three studies, Fields Needs Assessment, Visitation Projections, and the Economic Analysis, are based upon the most recent proposal for the Sports Complex, which was submitted to Novato in March of 2015. This is significant because that proposal is not the basis of these three reports.
Under this "fast track" process being promoted by the City of Novato, the City has approved the creation of these reports based solely on verbal "promises" made by the developer to modify and reduce the scope of the original 2015 proposal. However, the developer has not actually done so.
In fact, the developer has yet to submit enough information for the City to even determine the application is complete.
This article is a critique of The Fields Needs Assessment Study, dated March 2016, (attached below). In its Summary it states the following:
The difference between the demand and the supply indicates that to meet the desired level of field use and the current demand for growth, an additional 177 timeslots per week for ball sports and an additional 272 timeslots per week for field sports are needed. Although the required timeslots varies by field depending on a number of factors (natural or synthetic turf, lighted or unlighted, etc.), estimates indicate a need for 6 to 8 ball fields and 10 to 12 multi-use fields, based on the existing inventory of natural turf and unlighted fields.
The report relies on references to sports facilities in other similar cities, interviews with groups that are advocates for sports, and by pointing out successful operations elsewhere.
However, its weaknesses are numerous and include the following:
- There are no references to actual data of the Novato Department of Recreation and Parks. No evidence is presented to indicate that serious waiting periods for ball fields has existed for Novato residents over the past 10 years. In fact, this report makes no reference to the authors having reviewed actual data of the department. In response to questions about availability of sports fields in October 2012, the Novato Director of Parks and Recreations wrote this: “Once a facility renter submits a facility use request, we have 4 days to approve it or not. If we can't accommodate them, we refer them to other potential facilities oftentimes. But the City and NUSD have nearly all of the facilities and we work together to meet the most needs possible. We do not track wait time as requested below, because we either accommodate or can't”.
- No discussion is presented of alternate ways to accommodate perceived needs of sports enthusiasts, such as repair of existing fields, and use of sports facilities just outside the city, both north and south that are under-utilized.
- No space is devoted to describing the sports facilities already built and under construction in Petaluma that will almost surely compete with the proposed Novato facility for business.
- No mention is made of the many sports facilities that have been abandoned either during construction or early in its operation, leaving the city with a mess and a large bill to clean up.
- The intent of the developers to distribute alcoholic beverages on site is hardly referred to, yet it directly contradicts efforts by the city to address use of such beverages by minors that remains a significant problem in Novato.
- The report refers specifically to the rise in popularity of travel teams. The discussion surrounding this has little or nothing to do with sports for local residents. If some people want to engage in this, that’s fine but the rest of us are not required to support this. Accommodating travel teams has no place in this report.
- In a section on case studies of 8 cities, the report justifies the proposed Hamilton sports facility by devoting a lot of space and giving credit to Big League Dreams ("BLD") that presents itself as a family-oriented recreational facility. But this same facility not only glamorizes alcohol consumption but has shown itself to be unreliable at best and, at worst, an economic hazard to cities.
A partial listing of problems with BLD circa 2012 follows:
- The city of Oxnard that had a deal with BLD waited more than a year for an update on what happened to $400,000 of taxpayer money paid to BLD for a ballpark project that was never built. By unanimous vote, the Oxnard City Council agreed to sever its relationship to build out the final phase of Oxnard's 75-acre College Park with a complex of its replica sports fields and a restaurant.
- In League City, Texas, building six replica stadiums ballooned well beyond the original estimate of about $14 million. Building roads to the complex about 23 miles southeast of Houston was not included in initial plans drafted by BLD.
- BLD refused to refund the City of Hercules a $450,000 licensing fee that the city should be entitled to collect.
- BLD has failed to refund similar amounts in two other cities.
- In Fresno, Lawsuits and broken dreams led to the city incurring costs for Granite Park after it already invested nearly $6 million. The city stood to pay $100K annually at that time until a new investor was found.
- Lawmakers in Gilbert, Ariz., used bonds to pay for a projected $40 baseball complex built by BLD. The project ended up costing $53 million, including interest.
- Redding officials had to use $750,000 they had earmarked for parks to defend the city against a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed by Dale Construction, the firm that built the BLD sports park.
- Page 6 of this report states that the city owns grass fields, and administers lighted grass fields, for a total of 13 fields. The school district operates another 24 fields. This total far exceeds that recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), I.E., 1 unit per 5000 people for badminton, baseball, softball, and basketball, and 1 unit per 20,000 for handball. Interestingly, the report makes no reference at all to this national standard. Recall that the total population of Novato is about 53,000 and is estimated to reach about 57,000 by the year 2020. Do the math!
- A great deal of space is devoted to describing the benefits of sports. This part of the report is somewhat condescending description and unessential to the principal thesis. However, given that this is in the report, it is almost unbelievable that the authors fail to refer to extensive literature that debunks their case. For example, a recent report with documentation titled “The case against high-school sports” by Ripley appeared in the October 2013 issue of the Atlantic. It is perfectly OK to arrive at a conclusion but to ignore arguments that fail to support the conclusion is a fatal flaw.
In short, this report does not present historical evidence or any other kind of evidence to support conclusions. It ignores the literature that indicates fiscal irresponsibility of one of the companies it describes in glowing terms. It makes assumptions based upon comments of people and organizations that have a conflict of interest, and it has little or no credible literature references to support its assumptions and conclusions.
In many sections, it reads very much like an advertisement for the developer. In fact, the authors acknowledge their interactions with the developer in preparing their report.
Based on the comments I've noted, City staff, appointed and elected officials would be wise to view this report with considerable skepticism.