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Legally Speaking: Arizona D-backs, Maricopa County dispute goes to next level

LISTEN: Monica Lindstrom, Arizona Sports & KTAR News legal analyst

The Arizona Diamondbacks have repeatedly demanded Maricopa County “do its job” and repair and improve Chase Field, the Diamondbacks’ home.

However, the demands have been ignored, causing the team to step up to the plate and sue the county.

Tuesday, the Diamondbacks filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against the Maricopa County Stadium District and four county supervisors (collectively referred to herein as “County”) over the $185 million of repairs and improvements needed for Chase Field presently and until the end of 2027 (original numbers had this amount at $147 million but it has since increased — $135 million of the $185 million is for capital repairs).

This lawsuit has been in the making for years, even though the general public learned about it during spring training 2016.

In its 40-page complaint, the Diamondbacks detail how the county has failed to uphold its end of the bargain and ends with asking the court for one simple thing:

“a judicial determination that the Agreements are unenforceable, in whole or in part, and that the Diamondbacks are relieved of their covenants and obligations under the Agreements, including section of the Facility Use Agreement prohibiting the Diamondbacks from exploring alternative options or partnerships.”

Section of the contract between the parties restricts the Diamondbacks from taking “any action to move or to play its Baseball Games in another location other than [Chase Field].”

So what does this mean? #LegallySpeaking, it means the Diamondbacks are frustrated because the county promised it would provide the team with a state-of-the art facility to play in during the life of the contract (between the county and the team) and the county has failed to uphold its end of the bargain.

As such, the Diamondbacks want the freedom to look for a solution which may be another stadium to play in or perhaps a source of private money to pay for the repairs and improvements to Chase Field (although, the complaint implies that Chase Field may be too far gone, economically).

You see, right now the contract between the county and the team forbids the Diamondbacks from looking for a solution to the county’s money problems.

The D-backs believe this is not fair play since they have met all their obligations and it is the county that continues to fail to do its job.

According to the contract the capital repairs and improvements are supposed to be paid for by the county.

The source of this money is to be the profits derived from the booking of Chase Field for nonbaseball events, such as concerts and other sporting events.

However, the Diamondbacks are alleging the county has failed to adequately book other events and therefore does not have enough money to pay for the capital repairs and improvements under the contract.

In fact, there is allegedly only $8.1 million available.

The Diamondbacks are concerned that since there are insufficient funds for the county to pay for the repairs and improvements it is required to pay for, that Chase Field will continue to deteriorate to the point that they can no longer safely play there.

They believe they have to act now and start looking for partners or another place to play because these actions take time (i.e. it takes years to acquire land, secure funding, obtain permits, build a stadium) and they cannot afford to wait until the last minute.

As such, the Diamondbacks believe the franchise is at risk.

According to the complaint, the Diamondbacks have not sat idly by watching this happen.

It details how they offered to take on all the financial responsibility for the repairs and capital improvements and the responsibility of booking events at Chase Field in exchange for a reduction of the amount of licensing fees (akin to “rent”) paid to the county.

In the Diamondbacks’ eyes, if the team was going to pay for the county’s bills and obligations then it shouldn’t have to continue to pay the county full price for its use of Chase Field.

The county refused the offer.

It is clear from reading the complaint the Diamondbacks want taxpayers to know that the taxpayers have not lost money on this deal.

The document cites an ASU-Seidman Research Institute study that alleges “from the taxpayers’ investment of $238 million in Chase Field, the $511 million in resulting tax revenues and license fees generated represents, to date, a 10.2% internal rate of return to Arizona taxpayers.”

It goes on to explain the Diamondbacks have invested more than $200 million in Chase Field, which includes capital repairs they had no obligation to pay for but had to in order to keep the facility sound.

Bottom line, the Diamondbacks claim the county must pay for a large portion of the $185 million of repairs and improvements and since it only has $8.1 million it cannot pay its bills.

As such, the team wants permission from the court to start looking for a white knight or another place to play baseball.

What does the county say to this? We will find out when it files its response. Years of litigation and millions of dollars could be the result along with millions of disgruntled fans.

In my opinion, this is not an insurmountable situation, legally.

The Diamondbacks have not said they want to leave the Valley. That may be the ultimate decision but it hasn’t been made yet. It sounds like there is something going on between the parties, bad blood? Egos? Personal dislike?

Whatever it is, if all the parties put on their business hats, sit down at the table and really look at the situation it is simple:

Money is needed to fix Chase Field. The county doesn’t have it; the Diamondbacks want to find it.

Let the Diamondbacks do the heavy lifting — hire a mediator, work together and find the money.

So, #legallyspeaking, does it really have to be this hard? No.

Does it look like it’s going to be? Yes.

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