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Arizona Diamondbacks seek to end Chase Field lease

General view of Chase Field during action in baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Phoenix. The Dodgers defeated the Diamondbacks 4-3. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
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The Arizona Diamondbacks have called Chase Field home since they first played meaningful games in 1998, but over time the stadium — once state of the art — has become one of the older venues in baseball.

In fact, it is the 15th-oldest building in MLB but the fifth-oldest in the National League, and one NL team with an older stadium — the Atlanta Braves — is set to open a new park in 2017.

So, with an eye on finding themselves a nicer, newer home, the D-backs have asked their landlord for permission to negotiate with other entities for a new stadium.

The story was first reported by 12 News’ Brahm Resnik, and in it he cites a two-paragraph letter sent from Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall to the Maricopa County Board.

“We are requesting that the Maricopa County Stadium District allow AZPB Limited Partnership (the team’s owner) the right to take such actions as it deems necessary in order to move and play Diamondbacks’ baseball games in a location other than Chase Field.”

Resnik reports Clint Hickman, the county board chairman, rejected the request in a letter sent Wednesday. His reasoning was that the lease was designed to keep the ball park, which was paid for by taxpayers, from becoming an empty, un-used stadium.

The lease put limits on the Diamondbacks, Hickman wrote,  “to ensure that the taxpayers, who had paid $238 million in sales taxes to build the stadium (in addition to the District’s undertaking an additional $15 million contribution for construction costs), would not be left with an empty stadium” before the 30-year lease expired.

Under the lease, the D-backs can negotiate for a new stadium in 2024. It expires entirely in 2028.

The report states Hall has spoken with Arizona governor Doug Ducey and Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton in the last couple of months about some concerns at Chase Field.

In a statement, Hall said the team’s highest priority is providing a high-quality experience for fans and the original agreement with the county was meant to ensure Chase Field could do that the day it opened and into the future.

“The Maricopa County Stadium District has made clear that it will not be able to meet its obligations to fund financial reserves for capital improvements, which it now estimates to be at least $187 million for the remaining life of the stadium.  This spiral is insurmountable and will result in a Chase Field that will no longer be a state-of-the-art facility as our agreement requires and may, in fact, become unsuitable for continued use. We cannot risk being put in that position.

“Renovations and stadium projects take time.  We would rather act responsibly today to explore alternatives for remaining in downtown Phoenix than turn a blind eye to what we now see clearly as the County’s economic reality.  We were asking only for the opportunity to talk with other potential partners, a right that we assert we are due as a result of the County’s existing in ability to meet its responsibilities.

Hall added the D-backs would like to remain in downtown Phoenix and would prefer to stay at Chase Field, if possible. He says the county is putting the investment made by the taxpayers and the team in jeopardy, and that the only goal in looking to break the lease is to do what’s in the best interest of D-backs fans and the franchise.

In a press conference, Hall said the assessment that brought the $187 million estimate was from 2013 and the team has been trying to privately negotiate since.

This situation has the potential to get ugly.

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