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Visalia, Rawhide tussle over Valley Strong Ballpark upgrades

Visalia RawhideThe Visalia Rawhide (High-A; California League) and the city are wrangling over Valley Strong Ballpark upgrades to meet MiLB facility standards, with the city saying it’s not on the hook for any improvements.

In what’s been seemingly accelerated proceedings, the city of Visalia has filed suit against First Pitch Entertainment, the Rawhide owners, asking the court to assert its claim that the city is not on the hook for the estimated $10 million in work needed to meet the new facility standards, which include upgraded clubhouses, new changing spaces for women, expanded workout facilities and more. The city’s lawsuit says the city was blindsided by the new facilities specs and First Pitch Entertainment’s Sam Signal should never have agreed to the new standards without city approval:

“A mere one year later, [from January 2020] FPE, unbeknownst to the City, agreed with MLB to accept an entirely new set of facility standards as a condition to a renewed licensing agreement. FPE then began demanding the City spend upwards of $10 million of public funds to bring the Ballpark into compliance with the new standard that FPE and MLB had agreed to (without the City’s knowledge or consent). This action by FPE is contrary to the express terms of the Lease.”

It’s not entirely clear what the city would have had Sigal do: it’s not as though individual team owners had any say in the new facility standards, and MLB didn’t negotiate individual deals on the terms of the new PDL. Nevertheless, the city’s stance is clear: since it was not part of the MLB takeover of MiLB, its lease doesn’t require it fund Valley Strong Ballpark upgrades. Besides, the city says, the team’s lease says it caps ballpark improvements annually at $200,000.

The team, meanwhile, says the issue is pretty clear-cut: the team’s lease with the city requires the ballpark to be maintained to MiLB facility standards, and that Valley Strong Ballpark upgrades are needed for the ballpark to meet those MiLB facility standards.

But the situation is considerably more nuanced for both sides. First off, there’s a pesky fact that the lease between the city and the Rawhide expired on Dec. 31, 2022. Second, the city says the lease clearly says the team is responsible for any ballpark improvements past the aforementioned $200,000. (Pretty meaningless, though, if a judge decides the lease is expired anyway.)

Our summary merely covers scratched the surface of this debate. We’d recommend this long, well-researched piece from the Valley Voice for a plethora of details. The decision last month from MLB to postpone the deadline for upgrade plans gives Sigal and the Rawhide some breathing room in settling this suit or perhaps finding a new home (remarkably, given how hard it is to develop in California, there is some talk of new minor-league ballparks in the state, particularly in Northern California), but the deadline of 2025 for upgrades to be completed is still firm.

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