08 May Public sounds off on proposed Diamondbacks deal with Maricopa County
Daren Frank, director of the Maricopa County Stadium District, talks about the construction work going on at Chase Field in Phoenix in November 2017. Nick Oza/azcentral.com
(Photo: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Some are begging. Others, name-calling. The message is resounding from those responding: Keep baseball in Arizona.
People have stepped up to the plate to offer opinions on a proposed deal Maricopa County has negotiated with the Arizona Diamondbacks over Chase Field. It allows the team to begin looking for another home immediately if it drops a lawsuit arguing the county should pay for $187 million in repairs.
Though no one showed up to voice any thoughts in person at a public meeting Monday afternoon, submitted comments were read aloud to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which will vote Wednesday to approve or strike down the deal.
One comment reflecting the majority: “Please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please do whatever it takes to keep the DBacks in Arizona!!!”
Others submitted variations of the same, give or take a few “pleases” and exclamation points.
Others emailers were a bit more critical. One called the Major League Baseball team’s behavior that of “petulant children” that should not be rewarded. Another called for steeper penalties should the team choose to leave Maricopa County in the next five years.
Though the board didn’t give away its vote, supervisors expressed open-mindedness for the deal brokered by Maricopa County Board Chairman Steve Chucri, R-Paradise Valley, and Supervisor Bill Gates, R-Phoenix.
If the Diamondbacks decide to leave Arizona after 2022, the team would have to pay penalties of between $5 million and $25 million, according to the terms of the settlement. If the team finds a location in Maricopa County, the team can leave Chase Field without penalty in 2022, five years earlier than the team’s current 30-year contract allows.
The board stated the priority of the Monday’s meeting was to hear from the 16 residents who wrote to express their thoughts.
“We stand at just days before a vote … both sides are not going to get exactly what they want,” Chucri said after hearing the comments. “However, I think what’s before us is the best opportunity to keep baseball in Arizona.”
D-Backs get control of stadium
The deal also would give the team more explicit control of the stadium maintenance and operation.
Under the deal, the team would spend $35 million in repair money on a new scoreboard, air-conditioning equipment and other items previously were in dispute.
The team could receive up to $20 million from the county at the end of the contract as reimbursement for repairs.
The team also would take over booking concerts and events from Scottsdale-based event manager Select Artists Associates. Any net revenue would be dedicated to repairs.
In return, the county would be released from any obligation to pay for further repairs and would maintain ownership of the land in downtown Phoenix, which county leaders said could be redeveloped if the team leaves.
The Diamondbacks sued the county last year, seeking to break the team’s 30-year lease to look for another home. The lawsuit argued the county had not saved enough money to keep Chase Field in good condition.
The county said it had enough money for structural repairs but would not pay for cosmetic upgrades such as suite renovations that were the responsibility of the team, per their contract.
“This, simply said, is the county failing to stand up to a bully and giving in to idle threats by a billionaire owner who wants to pay no rent and except (sic) no responsibility to the fact that his organization is responsible for the so-called damages to a PUBLICLY FUNDED Stadium,” one resident wrote.
“What are they thinking?”
It’s not clear where the D-backs would go if the team decides to leave downtown Phoenix’s Chase Field, although real-estate experts and developers have offered suggestions about potential sites in Maricopa County.
Some residents wrote that the team has no chance at successfully pitching a new stadium in a different city.
"I don’t know why the D-Backs think they are going to get a new stadium in the valley," Joseph Dianda said in an email. "There is no way the residents will vote for a tax measure again to help them pay for it. What are they thinking."
"Not only is Chase Field more than "fit" for baseball … it has become home to the Arizona Diamondbacks fan base. Additionally, in the past decade alone downtown Phoenix has become the spot to be with the amount of urbanization/gentrification taking place in the area. The organization should be begging to remain in the hub that has become downtown Phoenix," one man wrote.
Supervisor Denny Barney, R-Gilbert, and Supervisor Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, expressed their concerns about the effect on downtown businesses and neighborhoods if the county releases the team from its contract early.
"You have business owners that I believe took to downtown Phoenix knowing the team will continue to be playing here for the next ten years," Gallardo said. "How would it affect those businesses?"
Barney said he couldn’t imagine driving past the stadium and knowing that the D-Backs don’t play there.
"It’s going to be a tough decision one way or another … we’re talking about a very large taxpayer-funded and taxpayer-owned stadium. We have to make a decision, not just for the short term but for the long term," Barney said.
Focus is "on the field"
The team has declined to comment further on the deal beyond a statement from Ken Kendrick, the team’s majority owner.
"We are hopeful that this proposed memorandum of understanding will lead to the end of the long, arduous negotiation regarding Chase Field," he said in a statement.
"We believe this will provide the best opportunity for the D-backs to remain in Arizona for the long term. Our primary focus remains the team on the field and providing our fans with the best experience in all of baseball."
Chucri said he is concerned that if the deal doesn’t move forward Wednesday, that it puts all sides “back to square one.”
“Square one I think will guarantee baseball to not only leave downtown Phoenix but Maricopa County. And that’s what we don’t want,” he said.
“That’s not a threat. It wasn’t a threat by anyone. However, I think it’s an unfortunate reality that if we can’t get our act together to make baseball a priority, it will have some unintended consequences.”