Editorial: County leaders need to get in the game to fix ballpark ills

The new spring training home of the world champion Houston Astros and division-leading Washington Nationals should be a jewel of our area — and, someday, probably will be.

But right now, it’s mired in complaints about unpaid bills and shoddy workmanship, causing a severe financial burden on local subcontractors still uncompensated for work done up to a year ago.

As reported by The Post’s Joe Capozzi, many of the 35 subcontractors have been pleading with both the teams and the four general contractors, led by Hunt Construction Group, to pay up. One company, Davco Electrical, says it is owed $7.5 million. Another, Mancils Tractor Service, says it’s out $4 million. One company owner said his firm is going out of business and he’s in danger of losing his home.

The teams blame the general contractors; the contractors blame the teams. Neither has been happy about some shortcomings in the work, which include windows and frames that weren’t installed right and clubhouse showers that didn’t drain properly.

In retrospect, a 15-month construction schedule was too tight, the teams and county commissioners too wedded to a February 2017 move-in date. That should have been even more obvious when an unexpectedly long seven months was needed to clear the site, an abandoned landfill south of 45th Street at Haverhill Road. With only eight months to go, subcontractors had to scramble, working overtime and out of order.

Related: As teams and contractor clash, work still not done at new ballpark

None of this might be of much interest beyond the sports pages except that a lot of taxpayer money has gone into this $135 million facility — with overruns, now a $152 million facility. The county, which courted the teams hard to get them here, put up the major financing for construction: $108 million in bonds and $5 million up front, all from hotel bed-tax revenue. The state is adding $50 million over 25 years. The teams are paying $2.5 million in annual rent.

That’s county tax revenue that could have been spent on lots of things more obviously beneficial to residents than a spring training camp for professional ballclubs. County commissioners, however, decided to bet on Major League Baseball and the annual tourism dollars likely to roll into West Palm Beach from passionate fans from Houston and Washington, adding to those who already flock to Jupiter and Roger Dean Stadium to watch the Cards and Marlins.

And it was commissioners who insisted on the unrealistic 15-month construction window. In October 2015, upon the commission’s vote to issue $133 million in construction bonds, then-Mayor Shelley Vana, presiding over the meeting, said: “I want … to impress upon both teams that we want 2017.”

Commissioner Hal Valeche laughed and said, “No pressure.”

The Post’s report continued:

“’No pressure,’ Vana interjected, ‘but if anybody wants to know how relentless I am, 2017. Are we all agreed on that one? 2017. Is that a yes?’

“Yes, team officials replied with nods as baseball caps with the Astros’ and Nationals’ logos were passed out to each of the seven county commissioners.”

All of which means that county leaders, who wanted this project done fast, have a lot at stake. And having invested the people’s money, county leaders carry a responsibility to see that the work meets standards and that local tradesmen get paid.

Happily, the Astros and Nats, who make the disbursements after receiving pay applications from the contractor and when satisfied with the work product, had an upbeat report for commissioners on Nov. 20.

The said 95 percent of vendors should be “closed out” by Dec. 22 and that the final punch list — the work remaining for the contractor to finish — should “be completed by the beginning of the 2018 spring training season.”

Sounds good, but it’s the results that matter. Without being in position to know everything going on behind the scenes, we can only hope that county leaders are doing more than playing spectator. They need to be breathing down some necks.

With less than three months before the spring season opener, it’s imperative that all work is finished and all local businesses paid so we can shake off this poor start and put the focus where it belongs: on the pleasures of baseball and the growth of Palm Beach County tourism.

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