MLB mandated new facility standards in 2021 after taking over Minor League Baseball; the expectation is that teams will reach these new standards by the 2025 season. Some teams have already implemented the new standards despite some hiccups in the system; others are struggling to put together plans for renovated or new ballparks to meet the standards.
In Visalia, the dispute is over who needs to pay for the improvements. The city owns Valley Strong Ballpark, and the team’s view is that as owner of the ballpark the city is responsible for paying for the renovations. The city says that the ballpark lease calls for only up to $200,000 annually in improvements and that the city needs to only maintain the ballpark to MiLB standards at the time the lease was written. The new standards are a problem for First Pitch Entertainment, the Rawhide owners, not the city.
But the lease also has a standard clause about maintaining the ballpark to MiLB requirements–namely, the city “shall provide a facility on the Premises that complies with all aspects of Major League Rule 58, establishing ‘standards for Minor League Playing Facilities’ or as the same may be amended during the Term.” That clause, argue attorneys for the Rawhide, requires the city pay the millions needed to meet the new MiLB facility standards, per the Sun-Gazette:
FPE said MLB scored Valley Strong Ballpark deficient for its clubhouse/locker room, field lighting and left field wall, which the city estimated would cost between $7 million and $11 million to renovate, repair or replace. FPE contends not only that the city has the responsibility and means to pay for the improvements, but it would lose far more than that in economic activity if Visalia were to lose the team over stadium compliance issues.
“The City is attempting to, in bad faith, renegotiate a lease the City willingly and knowingly entered into simply because the City does not want to pay for required stadium renovations, despite having the financial means and the obligation to do so,” FPE contends.
After an attempt at mediation, it looks like the dispute will go to court, with a trial beginning Oct. 16.
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