When it comes to Gilbert’s future Big League Dreams recreation park, it’s time for the Town Council to wake up and to stop throwing money at home plate.
The town should refuse to spend one more dime on additional improvements for a nearly $39 million project that’s already $17 million over budget. Instead, the town and its private partner need to get the amateur ballfields open and gauge the park’s ability to raise money . Then, Gilbert can determine if the park is worthy of any further investment.
We have refrained previously from harshly criticizing Gilbert over its handling of Big League Dreams because the city is trying to fill an important recreational need with an innovative approach that will be unique to Arizona. The 65-acre complex in Elliot District Park will feature eight ballfields that are miniature models of Major League Baseball stadiums, including the Valley’s own Chase Field. The complex also includes a restaurant and an indoor soccer field.
Gilbert reached a $22 million deal in 2005 with the private company behind Big League Dreams that already operates similar parks in California. Gilbert agreed to pay for construction costs and Big League Dreams will operate the complex, for a share of the gross receipts starting in three years.
This project is much larger than previous Big League Dreams parks, so it was difficult for the city to predict the exact construction expenses.
But the cost overruns have become ridiculously high. As the Tribune’s Beth Lucas first reported in July, Gilbert added $8 million in various options that town officials claim will further improve the overall experience for residents and out-of-town tourists. Another $1.1 million was approved for equipment and furnishings that absolutely were necessary but somehow were left out of the budget planning.
Lucas reported Wednesday that Town Manager George Pettit is looking at yet another request for funding, this time to provide additional protective netting, satellite TV service and a security system.
Most construction contracts include extra funding for unexpected costs typically ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent of the original budget projections. Rare and extremely conservative contingencies for complex projects can reach 50 percent. So far, Big League Dreams has exceeded the original budget by a whopping 77 percent.
The Town Council has rationalized each budget increase by saying Gilbert is building something that will be popular for generations. But what council members should ask themselves is if their constituents would have supported this plan if they knew in 2005 that Big League Dreams would cost nearly $40 million before the first swing of the bat.