Brockton leaders outline plan to finance purchase of old Fairgrounds
BROCKTON — You know when you lose at a carnival game like ball toss and feel cheated? City officials say they can get control of the Fairgrounds with a plan that won’t leave taxpayers feeling like marks.
Brockton is considering buying the 65-acre former Fairgrounds for about $55 million from the Carney family. City leaders say they’d create a master plan with input from residents, then sell the parcels for a variety of uses. They argue this approach would let Brockton shape what gets built on the largest undeveloped site left in the city.
On Monday, Mayor Robert F. Sullivan’s administration laid out how to pay for it. The city would take on temporary debt to finance the $55M. Chief Financial Officer Troy Clarkson said the city could get the money at 3.5% interest, with a goal of hanging onto it for no more than five years before selling to developers.
In the first year, taxpayers would owe $1.9M in interest. Against that chalk up $1.6M in rent to be paid by tenants like National Grid and the Brockton Visiting Nurse Assoc. That’d put the cost to taxpayers at about $300,000 in the first year. Clarkson said in this scenario, the city’s first interest payment would be due on July 1, 2024.
“I believe that this is a very sound and sustainable financial decision,” Clarkson said at a Monday meeting of City Council’s finance committee.
Acquiring the sprawling property along Belmont Street would also let the Brockton Public Schools and Department of Public Works stop paying rent to the Carneys. It costs the city $837,510 to park school buses, rent space for a school and host the DPW’s salt shed. Not all of that rent would necessarily go away, as the city could continue to charge the schools at least some rent, Ward 3 City Councilor Mark D’Agostino said.
On the negative side of the ledger, the Carneys would no longer pay taxes on the properties. The Carney family pays about $440,000 a year in taxes, Clarkson said.
The city’s top development official, Rob May, said he would push for a quicker turnaround than the five years envisioned in the financing plan, with a three-year sprint from taking the property to selling it off. Sullivan said he wouldn’t hesitate to pull the plug on the plan if it dragged out too long. “I have the ability to say ‘Three years, that’s it,'” said the mayor, who is seeking his third term.
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Supermajority vote needed
For the deal to go through, at least eight of the 11 City Councilors will have to vote for the final loan order, according to City Clerk Tim Cruise. It isn’t clear if that “supermajority” yet exists.
Count D’Agostino, who isn’t seeking reelection, as a skeptic. “I’m pretty cautious about debt. Debt of this size makes me nervous,” he said.
Ward 5 City Councilor Jeff Thompson didn’t like that the plan presented Monday failed to detail the city’s cost of ownership. That would include items like utilities, cutting the grass, preventing encampments of homeless people from springing up. “We have zero understanding of our operational costs,” Thompson said. Sullivan said that analysis is underway.
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D’Agostino also worried about tenants jumping ship as soon as their leases allow. May said the city would encourage tenants to stay in Brockton, especially downtown.
Ward 1 City Councilor Tom Minichiello was among several councilors who said residents are asking him what the proposed deal would mean to their pocketbooks. “We need to be able to tell the taxpayer: This is not going to cost you more money,” he said.
The deal has an enthusiastic backer in At-Large City Councilor Moises Rodrigues. The former mayor said it’s time for Brockton to start acting like a city. “It can’t be you’re against everything and for nothing,” he said. “I think we owe it to the taxpayers to make their dollars go farther.”
Sullivan revealed on Monday that when negotiations over price began, the Carneys had sought about $100 million. Sullivan said that hard work on the part of City Solicitor Megan Bridges had gotten them down to $55M.
Estimated Brockton cost
Land acquisition: $55,000,000Interest only payment $1,925,000Estimated rent paid to city in first year: $1,633,156Brockton’s year one cost: $291,843Source: City of Brockton. Figures as of Aug. 14, 2023
Who pays how much rent annually?
Current tenants at the Fairgrounds rent mostly parking and office space:Brockton Visiting Nurses Assoc. $424,913Father Bill’s/MainSpring $307,500National Grid $300,000160 Driving Academy $141,639State Auditor $121,083North River Collaborative $120,000Parker Professional Trucking $60,000American Tower $53,621Ginger Lanigan $44,400MDR Construction Co. $42,000Waverly Oil Co. 16,800F&S Produce $1,200Total $1,633,156Source: City of Brockton. Figures as of Aug. 14, 2023