AZ Diamondbacks Sue to Break Stadium Lease

PHOENIX (CN) — The Arizona Diamondbacks have sued the Maricopa County Stadium District to break the team’s lease on the Chase Field ballpark, which the club says needs $185 million in repairs and upgrades, though the district has only $8.1 million in reserve.

The stadium was built in 1998, and the lease does not expire until 2028. It is the fifth-oldest stadium in the National League.

There is no indication the team wants to move out of Phoenix. The Stadium District, a tax levying public improvement district, said in August last year that it was looking for a buyer for Chase Field, and that the minimum bid it would accept was $60 million.

The Diamondback and the Stadium District have been squabbling for a year over the condition of the ballpark and the money needed to improve it.

Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman said in March last year, when the quarrel broke into the open, that the Diamondbacks had “specifically agreed that all cities and towns within Maricopa County would be irreparably harmed by any attempted or actual relocation of the team.”

Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall responded then that the team wants “to remain in downtown Phoenix and we would like nothing better than for that to occur at Chase Field, if that is possible.”

But in its Tuesday lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court, the team cites a 2011 report, commissioned by the Stadium District, that “projected tremendous unanticipated costs to keep Chase Field suitable for its intended purpose.”

“As early as 2012, the district admitted the reserves may prove insufficient for future repairs,” the team says in the lawsuit. It claims, among other things, that the district insisted upon retaining the right to book the stadium for non-baseball uses, and to use the income for stadium upkeep, but has failed miserably at it: averaging $650,000 a year compared to a Major League average of $5.5 million.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick said in a statement this week that “the inability of the Maricopa County Stadium District to fulfill its commitments has left us with no other option” than to try to break the lease.

He said the ballpark could “potentially become unsafe and unfit for its intended purposes.”

The team’s attorney Leo Beus said in a statement that the ball club is not seeking any damages from the county or taxpayer funding for a new stadium: it merely wants to remove a contract clause so it can explore other stadium options.

Kendrick said Tuesday that the lawsuit “will have absolutely no impact on the day-to-day operations of the D-backs and the upcoming season and that for 2017, Chase Field is completely safe.”

Maricopa County responded with a statement: “It is disappointing the Diamondbacks are suing their fans who helped build Chase Field. The team simply wants out of the contract that makes them stay and play through the 2028 season. Saying the facility is in disrepair is outrageous.”

The team asks the court to relieve it of its obligations under a clause of the Facility Use Agreement, and declaratory judgment that “upon quitting and surrendering possession of Chase Field, plaintiffs are not thereafter liable to pay license fees or any other payments to defendants,” plus costs of suit.

Beus is with Beus Gilbert in Phoenix.

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