Thursday afternoon, word came out that the Arizona Diamondbacks were looking to end their lease with Maricopa County, thereby allowing them to explore options to play in a venue other than Chase Field.
According to the team, the Stadium District (which oversees the ball park) has not met its obligations to fund improvements, and will not be able to pay for $187 million worth of repairs the County determined needed to be done.
The County fired back at the assertion that it has not lived up to its side of the lease agreement.
“Something that was very important to me, as a person, this agreement has been a pretty much living, breathing document for the last 20 years,” said Clint Hickman, Maricopa County supervisor from District 4. “And has helped us, both my predecessor boards as well as this current board, understanding what this agreement is and how to enforce it and how to work and abide by it.
“One of the things I would like to bring to attention is one that gave me pause: the team specifically agreed that all cities and towns within Maricopa County would be irreparably harmed by any attempted or actual relocation of the team, and they were all made third party beneficiaries with certain rights to enforce that section.”
In a statement, Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall said the team wants “to remain in downtown Phoenix and we would like nothing better than for that to occur at Chase Field, if that is possible.”
Chase Field has been the Diamondbacks’ home since their inaugural season in 1998, but while it was new and state-of-the-art then, it is currently the fifth-oldest stadium in the National League.
Hickman said their agreement allows for discussion with the city of Phoenix and other entities with the goal of keeping the D-backs at Chase Field, and added there have been discussions held over recent months that are consistent with that goal.
“I am always happy to continue participating in any such discussions,” he said.
But in any discussion, he noted, the county must make sure to protect the taxpayers, who two decades ago helped fund the stadium’s construction.
One of the questions now, of course, is just what kind of work needs to be done to maintain the ball park. According to Daren Frank, who is the director of the Maricopa County Stadium District, there are not a lot of major issues to repair. He said the estimated $187 million in repairs is a number that figures in all that needed to be done from 2013 until the end of the lease, which is in 2028.
Saying there are projects that would be repeated, such as painting the restrooms, Frank said it is not a capital repair list.
“There is some capital repair in it, but it mostly is maintenance,” he said
Tom Manos, who is the county manager for Maricopa County, said he’s had numerous conversations with the Diamondbacks over the last four years about their desire to amend the stadium agreement, but in that time they never raised the issue of the county not adequately maintaining the facility.
“What they have brought up is their desire to reduce the amount of rent they pay the Stadium District for use of Chase Field,” he said. “We have made it clear over those four years that we cannot significantly reduce the rent at Chase Field because that’s the revenue that we use to maintain those facilities.”
According to Manos, the current rent calls for the Diamondbacks to pay $4.2 million per year, but they were proposing a reduction to $200,000.
“And again, our message has been consistent that we need that revenue to maintain the facility.”
In theory, that all makes sense. If the Diamondbacks are paying rent, it is fair for them to have an expectation of Chase Field being kept in good condition.
Maricopa County seems to agree, and said they have repeatedly asked the D-backs to meet with them to go over what kind of capital improvements and repairs should be made to the stadium.
“But in fact, more than a year ago we sent the list of repairs over to the Diamondbacks that we thought were appropriate for the facility,” he said. “Their response was that they thought we needed to do less than half of what we had on our list.”
Manos alluded to packet containing emails that was presented to those in attendance in which the County asked the D-backs to review construction contracts to make improvements, but the team responded by saying they were not going to approve them.
He then said the D-backs were asked in March to provide input on the projects, but the team responded by saying it was in everyone’s best interests to postpone the repairs for at least a year.
“So I’d ask you, how can you marry up their argument that says we haven’t adequately maintained the facilities when just on March 21st we got an email from the team asking us not to make any repairs for at least one year,” Manos asked.
Offering the media to take a tour of the stadium in order to see the repairs that have been made, Manos said the county and Stadium District have been more aggressive about what repairs should be done than the team.
It’s clear the team’s position is different from the County’s, and though it’s early, this situation seems to have the potential to turn rather ugly.
Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s John Gambadoro reported the Diamondbacks are expected to take Maricopa County to court over its inability to keep Chase Field fit to play baseball, but Manos said that’s not really an option.
“The contract provides for alternative dispute resolution,” he said. “I know there’s been talk about a lawsuit, but the contract does not allow that.
“The contract prescribes that we have to go to the ADR process — alternative dispute process first. If the Diamondbacks, the team, thinks that for any reason we have not complied with our responsibilities, we would welcome that ADR process.”
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