D-backs want to explore options for new stadium

Posted at 3:31 PM, Mar 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-25 00:47:03-04

Citing concerns about a lack of funding for stadium improvements, the Arizona Diamondbacks have asked for permission to play baseball games outside of Chase Field -- but Maricopa County has denied the D-backs permission to do so.

In a letter to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall asked to modify the terms of the 30-year lease between the county and the team that began in 1996 in order to explore the possibility of a new stadium.

On March 16, Hall wrote a letter to the Board asking for a modification of the team's Facilities Use Agreement that prohibited the team from negotiating with other venues in an effort to relocate the team from Chase Field.

On Wednesday, the Board informed Hall that it "has chosen to decline the request," noting that the agreement was created "to ensure that the taxpayers, who had paid $238 million in sales taxes to build the stadium ... would not be left with an empty stadium in downtown Phoenix" prior to the end of the lease.

On Thursday, Hall wrote back, noting that the D-backs are "shocked and very disappointed" with the decision.

"Since January, you have ... confirmed the District has no ability to pay for the $187 million in deferred maintenance, nor does it even have the ability to raise the funds," Hall wrote.

That $187 million includes painting, light fixtures and other regular maintenance.

"We thought our recent discussions had progressed to a mutual understanding that the next logical step to free the District of this $187 million burden was to agree that the Diamondbacks could at least explore other available stadium options," Hall said.

"Although we thought we were making progress, it appears that you have thrown the gauntlet and have given us no real options at this stage."

Also on Thursday, Hall released the following statement:

"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."

Hall said the D-backs would like to remain in downtown Phoenix if possible, but "the County is putting in jeopardy the investment that taxpayers have made, that the team has made, and the economic windfall the community has reaped as a result.

"Again, we only want to do what’s in the best interest of D-backs fans and the franchise," he wrote.

After Hall's statement, the Board held a press conference to reiterate that its No. 1 goal is to honor the taxpayers who funded the stadium.

"This agreement has pretty much been a living, breathing document for the last 20 years," board chairman Clint Hickman said. "This is an obligation and a fiscal responsibility I have… that we want to protect the taxpayer."

Maricopa County manager Tom Manos said the county offered to make numerous stadium repairs a year ago, and the D-backs asked them to postpone many of those repairs.

“Their response was they thought we needed to do less than half of what we had on our list,” Manos said.

"How can you marry up their argument that says we haven’t adequately maintained their facilities when ... we got an email from the team asking to not make repairs for one year?"

Repairs forecasted through 2027 includes $20 million for suite remodeling, $18 million for display boards and $3.7 million for video surveillance upgrades.

Responding to the County's remarks, Hall said the D-backs "owe it to ourselves" to explore other options, even though he would like the team remain at Chase Field. "I want the freedom to be able to look and the County won't give us that," he said.

"If we need $187 million in repairs now, what will this building look like in 10 years? that scares me," Hall added, noting he wants to ensure the stadium is as "state-of-the-art" in a decade as it is today. 

"I question that (will be the case) when they say they can’t fulfill their obligation," he said.

"I look at this building and find it hard to believe it'll be the fourth-oldest in the league after next year ... This argument has been taking place for almost four years because they can’t fulfill their $187 million obligation.”

Chase Field, formerly known as Bank One Ballpark, has been the team’s home since it began play in 1998. It served as a backdrop to the team’s dramatic comeback in Game 7 to win the 2001 World Series.