2016 has been rich with stories about wealthy baseball teams attempting to get (or successfully getting) new stadiums that taxpayers have to pay for. But the latest development in the fight between the Arizona Diamondbacks and their landlords, Maricopa County, Arizona, shows that the tide might finally be turning.
Maricopa County has denied the Diamondbacks’ requests for $65 million to fund ballpark upgrades and repairs over the next 12 years. The denial is based on their lease agreement, which sets requirements for repairs. The repairs that the Diamondbacks are requesting don’t meet the requirements specified in the lease, with the county asserting that they’re all cosmetic. They include painting, renovations to suites, and a brand new scoreboard.
These repair requests originally came to light in March, with the team threatening to sue the county to get out of their lease. That would enable the Diamondbacks to start shopping around for a new city that would build them a brand new stadium, which they requested permission to do.
The Diamondbacks tried to circumvent Maricopa County by proposing that the city of Phoenix (where the ballpark is located) take over as landlord of Chase Field. The advantage for the Diamondbacks is pretty straightforward: the Maricopa County Stadium District doesn’t have the ability to raise new taxes to fund these repairs, and the city of Phoenix does.
That was in April, the same time that County Supervisor Andy Kunasek wrote a letter to Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall that used some pretty strong language. From the azcentral.com story:
[Kunasek described] the baseball business as “evolving into a parasitic enterprise.” He accused Hall of selling a “false narrative,” slandering county board members and doing “irreparable harm” to taxpayer confidence in government.
As if that wasn’t strong enough, Kunasek chose to deliver the letter along with some choice four-letter words.
As Kunasek delivered the letter to the team, he directed a profanity-laced storm at Hall, calling on owner Ken Kendrick to “take your stupid baseball team and get out” and go back to “f–king West Virginia,” according to team notes that Kunasek does not dispute.
Though hand-delivering a letter has its charms, perhaps a stamp and an envelope would have been a wiser choice of delivery method. Kunasek is obviously passionate about this issue, but he’s said that he won’t be running for re-election this year.
This whole thing is a mess, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better soon. Maricopa County is up to its eyeballs in bad stadium deals, with two on the books already (for the Arizona Cardinals and the Arizona Coyotes) that are costing them and the taxpayers significant cash. There is also pending litigation concerning the area’s absurdly high rental car tax, which partially funds the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium. The tax was ruled unconstitutional, and if the appeal fails Maricopa county will have to find around $12 million a year to replace the lost tax revenue.
With the $65 million for repairs denied, we might find out how serious the Diamondbacks were about suing Maricopa county. If they really want to find a new city and a new stadium, this is their chance. Though what it actually seems like they’re looking for is a friendly local government who is willing to make taxpayers fund their new ballpark.
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