Judge David Mathias has declined to decide who is responsible for funding Visalia Rawhide ballpark renovations, as the city and California League team continue to spar over the future of Valley Strong Ballpark.
The issue stems from MiLB-mandated improvements to Valley Strong Ballpark, including new fencing, upgraded LED lighting, expanded clubhouses and workout areas (including a women’s only space), and secure player parking. We haven’t seen a total price tag for all these improvements, but the city’s position is that anything past $200,000 is the responsibility of the team per the lease, taking the team to court.
Mathias issued a mixed decision, coming down to a single point: the lease did not anticipate the issue of MiLB-mandated upgrades, preventing him from issuing a definitive ruling. It’s true the lease limits the city to $200,000 annually in upgrades and maintenance; it’s also true the lease mandates 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.” (Yeah, that seems pretty on point to us too.) From the Sun Gazette:
In short … the lease does not provide an answer to the question of whether the City’s cost obligation associated with those new standards is capped, or not,” Judge Mathias wrote. “Accordingly, the court is faced with unresolved ambiguity in the terms of the lease, and neither party’s complaint can prevail solely by reference to the lease terms.”…
“[I]t does not appear from the evidence presented in this case that the parties contemplated when entering the subject lease agreement either the removal or replacement of the MiLB by MLB as the Minor League governing entity or the substantial Rawhide Stadium improvement costs at issue in this case,” Mathias wrote. “The court declines to issue declaratory relief on either parties’ complaint and judgment shall be entered against both the City and First Pitch on the complaint and cross-complaint.”…
“It is also not true, as the City contends, that the City’s monetary obligations are always clearly capped in the lease,” Mathias wrote. “Contrary to the City’s representation in its closing brief, section 6(b) regarding ‘Major Maintenance’ does not appear to set any cap on the City’s financial obligation for the items described in that section.”
In a statement issued on Instagram, owner Sam Sigal holds to his position that the city is required to fund the upgrades:
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Time is of the essence though: meeting the new facility guidelines are mandated for the 2025 season, though it looks like teams with a firm plan are being allowed to push things to 2026.