County on Diamondbacks: ‘We’re not sure what they’re after’

The interior of Chase Field is pictured Sunday Aug. 30, 2015 in Phoenix. Chase Field is home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Photo by Jacob Stanek/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County is unclear on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ end goal in their ongoing dispute over Chase Field.

“We’re hoping to sit down and go over what exactly it is (the Diamondbacks) want,” Maricopa County Public Information Officer Fields Mosley told Cronkite News Friday. “We’re not sure what they’re after.”

In the latest development in a year-long battle over maintenance costs at the downtown Phoenix stadium, the county filed a motion in Maricopa County Superior Court Friday to dismiss the team’s lawsuit and instead send the case to arbitration.

“What we have here is a landlord-tenant disagreement,” Mosley said.

The county contends that the stadium agreement originally signed in 1996 requires out-of-court arbitration to settle such disputes.

In a statement provided to Cronkite News, Diamondbacks attorney Leo Beus said the county is simply trying to avoid a public hearing on the lawsuit.

“There was absolutely no cooperation from the county and they made no attempts to resolve the issues facing the obvious shortfall they had created,” Beus said. “Now, they would like to avoid a public hearing on our lawsuit and meet in private, as we had done in the past to no avail. (Attorney for the county Grady) Gammage clearly identifies the County Stadium District as the landlord and the Diamondbacks as the tenant, and this landlord has made it crystal clear both publicly and privately that it cannot uphold its responsibilities to its tenant.”

Opened in 1998, Chase Field was funded through a combination of taxpayer contributions and money from the Diamondbacks organization. Taxpayers contributed $238 million for the baseball stadium, while the Diamondbacks paid $115 million. The Maricopa County Stadium District owns and operates Chase Field, while the Diamondbacks pay rent to play at the stadium as a tenant.

“They signed the contracts, and the contracts say: The Diamondbacks are the tenant, the Stadium District is the landlord, and all landlord/tenant disputes have to go to arbitration,” Gammage said in a news release from the county. “The simple fact is, they’re not allowed to sue just because they’re unhappy with their landlord.”

Originally filed Jan. 3, the Diamondbacks’ lawsuit claims that stadium conditions will become unsafe if millions more dollars are not invested by the county for repairs. The team also claims that the county has failed to keep the stadium in proper condition.

The lawsuit did not seek damages from the county, but requested immediate release from the contract that runs through the end of 2027, in turn ending their lease at Chase Field.

The team wants to explore other options, which the agreement would not allow it to begin until 2024. Maricopa County, on the other hand, remains firm that it has enough money to cover any necessary repairs to the stadium.

“There are a couple things in the contract that you could sue for,” Mosley said. “What the Diamondbacks are alleging is not one of them.”

A 2013 outside assessment of Chase Field commissioned by the Stadium District described the condition of the facility as “excellent.”

The same assessment projected that $187 million in repairs would be needed over the remaining life of the lease. Of that amount, the assessment concluded $35 million to $45 million could be seen as capital repairs, which are paid through a reserve fund available to both parties.

“The county and its taxpayers made a deal with the Diamondbacks: We will build you a stadium, and you promise to play in it through the 2027 baseball season,” Denny Barney, District 1, chairman of the Maricopa County Stadium District Board of Directors said in news release. “We want the team here and we expect them to keep their promise.”