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Taxpayers Will Pay $1 Million to Tear Down $18 Million Baseball Stadium That Predictably Failed to Rejuvenate Camden

The stadium never turned a profit and the team skipped town when local officials decided to start charging rent.

Drew Hallowell/Icon SMI 595/Drew Hallowell/Icon SMI/NewscomDrew Hallowell/Icon SMI 595/Drew Hallowell/Icon SMI/NewscomSpeaking in 2000 at the groundbreaking for a minor league baseball stadium in Camden, New Jersey, then-Governor Christine Todd Whitman reached for the most obvious cliche possible.

The state's economic development authorities, she said, had "heard the message from the movie, Field of Dreams: 'If you build it, they will come.'"

"Well, soon we will see a field of dreams right here in Camden, and my prediction is 'they will come,'" Whitman said.

Taxpayers spent more than $18 million to build the stadium that would eventually be named Campbell's Field, as part of a minor league ballpark-building frenzy across New Jersey that saw similar stadiums erected in Newark, Atlantic City, and Somerset—all part of redevelopment schemes that attracted independent minor league teams (that is, minor league teams not affiliated with the Major League Baseball farm system).

Less than two decades later, taxpayers in New Jersey will pay another $1 million to tear down Campbell's Field.

The sad saga of the Camden Riversharks—the Atlantic League team for whom the stadium was built prior to the 2001 season—will come to an official end more than three years after the team picked up and moved to New Britain, Connecticut, leaving Campbell's Field vacant. The city tried to attract a new team, but after those efforts failed, the Camden County Improvement Authority signed off on a plan to demolish the stadium, according to NJ.com. The Riversharks and Campbell's Field were supposed to revitalize the impoverished city by being the centerpiece of an economic development plan along the edge of the Delaware River. Now, the demolition of the stadium is the first step in a new $15 million economic development scheme that will turn the site into a complex of athletic fields for Rutgers University's Camden campus, NJ.com reports.

The stadium was a mistake from the start, though it did offer sweeping views of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Philadelphia skyline across the river. The great view wasn't enough to convince fans to go to Camden, a deeply improverished city best known for its high crime rate. In the team's final two seasons, the Riversharks averaged about 3,000 fans per game—which is actually not bad by the standards of independent minor league baseball—but the team never turned a profit and abruptly skipped town in 2015 when negotiations on a new lease stalled.

By then, the ballpark was so deep in debt that it faced foreclosure because the team had missed several lease payments. To bail it out, Camden paid off $3.5 million in outstanding debt and purchased the property. The city planned to impose a new ticket surcharge to cover those costs, but the city only received one payment from the team before it moved away, NJ.com reported last year.

Camden's not the only city to dump a ton of money into a minor (or major) league ballpark under the guise of economic development, only to see the project become a fiscal black hole. The minor league teams that moved into Newark and Atlantic City around the same time as the Riversharks started playing in Camden have met similar fates. The Atlantic City Surf survived for 11 years before going bankrupt and the Newark Bears folded in 2014. Their riverfront stadium in downtown Newark is also set to be demolished less than 20 years after it was built.

"If there's a lesson here, it's that minor-league baseball stadiums are incredibly risky gambles," writes Neil deMause, author of the book Field of Schemes. "It's the rare team that brings in tons of fans after the initial honeymoon period and it's all too easy for a team to relocate or fold years before the stadium is paid off even if the team is helping to pay off the stadium debt, which it usually isn't."

Perhaps the only good news for taxpayers is that the Camden stadium didn't become an even bigger boondoggle—because it almost did.

Officials in Camden and Philadelphia had long dreamed of a cross-river cable car system—for reasons that really don't make any sense, considering the fact that cars, trains, and pedestrians can already use the Ben Franklin Bridge to get between the two places—and the baseball stadium nearly sparked that project into being. Philadelphia ended up spending $18 million on the tram system before abandoning the idea.

For all that money, all the city got was a large concrete arch along the riverfront.

Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/Icon SMI 595/Drew Hallowell/Icon SMI/Newscom

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    Many of these same taxpayers continue to reelected Democrats in these cities where this outrageous spending is taking place.

    Fuck 'em.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    after the team picked up and moved to New Britain, Connecticut

    I wonder what song and dance the wise elders of New Britain, Connecticut fell for. I guess we will find out in a year or two when the new stadium goes up, and then 15 years later when it comes down.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    A monorail?

  • Velaphi Mamba||

    I'm betting it'll be an instant replay of Dunkin' Donuts Park in Hartford next door.

    Delays, overruns, massive debt and FBI investigations.

    http://www.golocalprov.com/bus.....ter-delays

  • Dillinger||

    PepperidgeFarm/Campbell's should pay for everything that happens in Camden.

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    The NHL was expanding in 1999 and Columbus, Ohio was on point for getting a team. A sales tax proposal to pay the new downtown hockey arena. The relentless statement from everyone pushing the issue was "If this gets voted down, there will be no hockey in Columbus!!"

    Well, the first Tuesday in November saw the sales tax proposal failing by an epic margin. Was there really no hockey in Columbus? The lead local news story on Thursday that week was that a deal was struck with Nationwide Insurance to fund the area construction, without public money.

    This was not 36 hours after the voting closed!

    Moral: Only a gullible fool votes to give money to a sports team.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Only a citizen with no sense of civic pride refuses to support a local sports enterprise/ SARC [in case is not overly obvious...]

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Plus if we don't build it then (insert other prospective city) will get the team, and screw those bastards.

  • Rat on a train||

    If your city doesn't have a team, it isn't really a city. You can't put a price on the pride of living in a real city.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Yay! Toledo Mudhens! Yay! Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs!

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Only a citizen with questionable red-blooded manhood...

  • Paloma||

    I got no problem with people giving their own money to a sports team. The problem is they want to force everyone else to give their money to a sports team.

  • Trigger Warning||

    The only reason projects like this exist is to funnel money to the appropriate union goons.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    It's the New Jersey way.

  • gaoxiaen||

    And appropriate gov't pockets.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Officials in Camden and Philadelphia had long dreamed of a cross-river cable car system—for reasons that really don't make any sense, Unless your are a politician with a relative who is a contractor.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    And a questionable investment in steel cable futures

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    While in general I oppose the overuse of eminent domain, I admit I would like to see what a professional sports franchise would do if, on their threatening to move, a politicians proposed to exercise eminent domain over the team. It would be no more ethical than the bullshit bullying that goes on to get new taxpayer funded stadiums built, but it would be no LESS ethical either.

  • Agammamon||

    They pack everything up and load it in to trucks in the middle of the night and leave town.

    Just as the 'Baltimore' Colts.

    https://tinyurl.com/y9uq69pz

  • creech||

    This is great! A few of the Philly suburbs have floated trial balloons from time to time proposing a minor league baseball stadium. Camden's failure will be exhibit A for those of us who need to oppose such a plan. Because most taxpayers don't care to protest, the best way to defeat these things is to cry "traffic congestion" to the neighbors or "destroy the environment" to the Greenies. Now those people do care!

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Well, Camden could use the stadium as our international friends often do, as open air "housing" for refugees.

  • Rich||

    GOOOOOAAALL!!

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    How much sense fires it make for Rutgers to treat down one big baseball field to put up (probably) four small field)?
    Your educational tax dollars at work...

  • Shirley Knott||

    How much staff to manage and "support" one big field?
    How much to support four smaller fields?
    There's your answer right there. It's about growing fiefdoms, not 'education.'

  • Agammamon||

    4 small fields that can be used *by the people who live there* simultaneously for recreation?

    A lot, actually.

  • BarkingSpider||

    Really? In Camden??? One look at Camden will tell you exactly how those civic minded people will take care of the place. Be just another ghetto in a year.

  • Rich||

    Philadelphia ended up spending $18 million on the tram system before abandoning the idea.

    Apparently Philly was not thinking of the JOBS! "The City of Brotherly Love", indeed!

  • Robert||

    I really, really want to copy the success of independent minor league baseball with independent minor league football. The Budget Football League. Actually revive semi-pro football. There are still football clubs they call semi-pro, but are actually amateur.

  • Tankboy||

    How can you call this a mistake? The taxpayers were fleeced, as usual, the politicians got to grandstand and promote American Values, i.e. baseball, and numerous well-connected contractors took the $18 million and rebated part of it to their friends in local government. This was not a mistake. What are you, some sort of Libertarian pot-head?

  • Fats of Fury||

    New Jersey is the home state of Spartacus. Bring on Gladiator shows. Believe me they will come.

  • Liberty Lover||

    What a great boost to the economy. Think of all the "shovel ready" jobs that million to tear down the stadium will create! (sarc)

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