Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The following are the notes I used to speak to the Pittsfield Parks Commission on behalf of Wahconah Park, Inc. You can read the whole story of my mission to Pittsfield in the entry below.

Good evening. My name is Howard Cronson. I am planning to invest in Wahconah Park, Inc. I live in Framingham and I have an extensive background in finance as associate controller of a large mutual fund company in Boston. I have come out to Pittsfield this evening to echo the statement that Jim Bouton and Chip Elitzer have made repeatedly: that their investors will take their money and run if the company is subjected to the public bid laws.

I first decided to invest in this venture because I believe in the company’s business plan. Rehab a historic, beloved old ballpark and market it not only to the local community, but to the millions of visitors who come to the Berkshires each summer. Visitors who might have had enough shopping and art museums and classical music and might want to spend an evening watching a ball game and eating a hot dog. It seemed like an obvious fit. My hope, as an investor, was to have some fun as part-owner of a baseball team, and to make a reasonable return on my investment. I had no illusions of getting rich. In fact, I think most people get rich first and then buy a baseball team.

However, the requirement that Wahconah Park, Inc. follow the public bidding laws, even though not one dollar of taxpayers money is being used for the renovation of the ballpark, makes this investment much less attractive. Let me explain why.

Anyone who has run a small business, which is essentially what a minor league baseball team is, knows that two of the keys to survival are cash flow and flexibility. The public bidding process severely impacts both.

The most obvious is cash flow. Because of the inflexible nature of the public bid laws, they almost inevitably lead to cost overruns through change orders. Instead of the business making small changes to the project quickly and economically as conditions warrant, expensive change orders have to be put through. Instead of the business using it’s cash to pay salaries, buy supplies, etc., the cash is chewed up through cost overruns on these capital projects.

The second item is flexibility. Small businesses rely on being flexible and having the ability to react quickly to changing business conditions and customer demands. The bureaucratic public bidding process eliminates flexibility, since every ballpark improvement must be put out to bid with long lead times and little flexibility for changes during the process. It cripples the company’s ability to react quickly and puts management under a huge burden.

Mayor Roberto was quoted in the Eagle as saying, “if they cannot accept the requirements of pubic bidding, I will be open to others who can make it work.” I wish him good luck in finding such a group, because, in my opinion, no competent investor would put money into a minor league ballteam in Pittsfield under the public bidding conditions. I certainly would not. Pittsfield has been offered a golden opportunity - not once, but twice! - to refurbish it’s beloved old ballpark, bring more tourist dollars into the city and bring baseball back at no cost to the taxpayers. All that is being asked is that the licensing agreement between the city and Wahconah Park, Inc. be amended so that the competitive bidding laws no longer apply. These laws, as I think we would all agree, were designed to prevent pubic officials from inappropriately using taxpayers money, not to prevent private businesses from investing in public facilities.

I would strongly urge this board to approve the revised agreement presented by Mr. Bouton and Mr. Elitzer. Otherwise, Pittsfield will be back where it started: no baseball and the need to either renovate Wahconah Park at taxpayer expense or build a new stadium, which, based on history, is apparently an unacceptable alternative to the voters of this city. Thank you for your time and attention.


At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry you're having such a tough time of it. I think the only REAL constant in the universe is politics. Clinton.


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