With support on the City Council for a new downtown ballpark wobbly, MountainStar Sports warns that bringing a Triple-A team to El Paso is contingent on a ballpark lease being passed Tuesday — but a key council member has declared her opposition to any deal without a public vote.
With Mayor John Cook poised to veto any a proposed lease, it will take the City Council to override the veto with six votes. And while the original ballpark plan passed by a 6-2 margin, it looks like it will pass this time around by a 5-3 margin after Rep. Emma Acosta declared her opposition if there was no public vote — not a wide enough margin to override a veto:
“I am now more adamant about this issue being placed on the ballot and allowing the citizens of this community to vote on it,” she wrote via email. “I believe in respecting the people of this community and respecting their right to vote on this very important issue. If Triple-A baseball is to come to El Paso, then let’s allow the voters to join in this vision and make it everyone’s vision.”
Waiting until November to see if a sale goes through isn’t an option, say MountainStar officials, who have a deal to buy the Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League).
“Right now, El Paso controls its own destiny,” said Josh Hunt, one of the owners of MountainStar. “Here is what we expect to happen if Council honors the commitment they made in June and approves the contract on Tuesday: 1) MountainStar will receive PCL approval; 2) Minor League Baseball will approve the transaction; 3) Major League Baseball will approve the transaction; and 4) Jeff Moorad, owner of the Tucson Padres, will finalize the sale documents allowing us to close on the acquisition of the team and relocate them to El Paso.”
There are other cities expressing interest in a Triple-A team; for instance, Boise officials met with Moorad before a deal was struck with MountainStar. And with PCL approval for the sale to MountainStar contingent on a new ballpark, Hunt warns the deal could fall apart if the CIty Council failed to approve the ballpark deal Tuesday:
“The harsh reality is we don’t know what Baseball will do. What we do know is that the deal will be at risk and we may lose out on this opportunity,” Hunt said. “If Council does not proceed with the agreements as we fully expected them to do when approved in June, then at that point, El Paso is saying they will not honor their commitment to build a ballpark. PCL, MiLB, and MLB acquisition and relocation approvals are contingent on the approval of the ballpark lease, so basically, we lose control of the opportunity, as well as credibility.”
Only two ballparks in the Pacific Coast League came about as the result of a public vote — Albuquerque and Oklahoma City — and technically voters in Albuquerque approved a renovation of the existing ballpark, not a totally new one. Of course, ballpark projects that appear to be headed to a referendum are usually dropped if it looks like there’s not adequate public support. And while it’s not clear whether there’s enough public support for a new ballpark (we’ve seen no polling), it sounds like MountainStar doesn’t want to take the risk. Over the weekend the group announced changes to the proposed lease that would put more money into city coffers via an increased ticket tax, leading to some warnings from Hunt:
“Jeff Moorad will be free to sell the team elsewhere. We would need to revisit the entire proposal not only with him but with the League, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball….We have been completely transparent throughout this process, and we have attempted to address concerns that were shared with us by Council members and City staff,” he said. “The PCL, MiLB, and MLB have all done what they said they would do; they have honored their commitments and fully expect our deal to proceed. We expect the City Council to honor its commitment as well. Nothing has changed since the City approved the Term Sheet — it has only gotten better from the City’s perspective as a result of recent concessions made by MountainStar. We expect approval by Council on Tuesday.”
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