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Diamondbacks: Improve Chase Field Or We Will Leave

Arizona DiamondbacksIn a very complicated situation, Arizona Diamondbacks management is threatening a move from Chase Field — or at least launch a very public legal battle — if deferred capital improvements are not carried out in a timely fashion.

Correspondence between Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall and the Maricopa County Board reveals a rift between the two entities when it comes to the funding of future capital improvements. Like most MLB teams, the Diamondbacks have a clause in their lease that commits the Maricopa County Stadium District to maintain a “state of the art” facility. And since Chase Field opened in 1998, there have been plenty of other facilities that have raised the state of the art to a new level, and next season’s opening of SunTrust Park will raise that bar even higher. (Chase Field is the 15th-oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, and will move up a spot in 2017.) That lack of attention to regular upgrades was central to Hall’s initial correspondence requesting that the team be released from its Chase Field lease, per Arizona Sports:

“We are requesting that the Maricopa County Stadium District allow AZPB Limited Partnership 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.”

If that request was denied, “we will ask the court for all appropriate relief.” You can download the full letter here. We’d recommend reading the letter — it’s a very full accounting of the ballpark finances.

Under the current lease, the Diamondbacks can begin negotiating for a new ballpark in 2024 and move in 2028.

The response from county board chairman Clint Hickman was pretty blunt: he rejected the request, writing that maintaining the Chase Field lease will “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.”

But that won’t close down debate on the issue, as Hall and the team today issued a statement to clarify the team’s position:

“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.”

Absent a more positive reaction from Maricopa County, the next step is clear: a lawsuit. As noted, the team has identified some $187 million in deferred maintenance. In addition, there’s also a proposal for additional renovations that would lessen capacity while adding premium spots; this would cost $100 million to $200 million.

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