Legally Speaking: D-backs, Chase Field deal a win for both sides
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Maricopa County are a significant step closer to settling their landlord/tenant lawsuit over Chase Field.
The parties have a proposed Binding Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), otherwise known as a settlement agreement, in their hands and are just taking the required steps to finalize it.
This proposed Binding MOU would end the lawsuit that was filed by the Diamondbacks in January 2017.
For background, the lawsuit was filed after several years and numerous attempts by the parties to resolve the issues between them, all related to Chase Field.
The most notable issue was the question of who was required to pay for the almost $185 million dollars worth of repairs and maintenance issues to Chase Field.
The two disagreed on this and other issues which led to the filing of the January 2017 lawsuit.
If signed, this MOU would change the relationship that exists between the Diamondbacks and Maricopa County in substantial ways.
According to the County, it would “simplify” the relationship.
This would be a welcome change considering the current agreements that are long, convoluted and ambiguous.
There are a number of provisions in the MOU but I am going to go over the ones that are the most significant for the fans and the taxpayers, namely money and where the Dbacks will play.
First, all claims would be dismissed between the parties.
This means the lawsuit mentioned above would be dismissed.
This saves both sides a significant amount of money in court costs and attorney fees.
Second, and the most important to D-backs fans, the team will be committed to play a minimum of five more seasons at Chase Field.
In the event the team reaches an agreement to play outside Maricopa County after the 2022 season, it has to pay the County a buyout amount.
More about this is explained below.
Third, “in no event will any County tax revenue be used to fund the ongoing repairs to, or operations of, Chase Field.”
This is important to many who were upset 30 years ago when taxpayer funds were used to build the ballpark.
The MOU goes on to state “no public entity-including the [County] will be obligated to pay any further cost for the operation, maintenance or repair of Chase Field except as provided herein.”
In other words, the MOU makes it very clear that the taxpayers will not have to pay for the operation of, management of, or repairs to Chase Field.
Fourth, the D-backs will have sole control and responsibility for the operation and maintenance of Chase Field.
This was important because the D-backs were not happy with the fact the County failed to book other events at Chase Field which led to inadequate funds available for the County to make repairs and improvements to the stadium.
This removes the responsibility from the County and puts it on the D-backs.
Next, all money made from the use of Chase Field will go to the Diamondbacks.
This incentivizes the team to book events and make money to help pay for the repairs. On the flip side, the D-backs must still pay rent to the County of $2 million dollars per year.
With this MOU both sides are in a position to make money.
Further, and this has fans very concerned, once the MOU is inked, the D-backs “may begin exploring options to modify, remodel or rebuild Chase Field…[and they] may also begin to explore any long-term alternatives to Chase Field involving relocation to any other location or facility.”
Some are worried the D-backs just need to hang in there for the five years and then go somewhere else to get a new stadium.
That is true, that is something they can do.
Now think about this, if they stay in Maricopa County (including Tribal land), reach an agreement for a new facility and enter into at least a 20-year agreement to play in that facility, there will be no penalty and no buyout.
That would leave downtown Phoenix with an enormous venue that likely would not be used or would have to be demolished or remodeled.
But, it would keep the D-backs in Maricopa County.
Overall this MOU is a win-win for both sides.
The Diamondbacks get what they wanted, control over Chase Field, reduced rent and the freedom to explore other options.
The County still gets rent and no longer has the responsibility of taking care of Chase Field.
Yes, there is the possibility that the Diamondbacks will leave Chase Field and Phoenix will be left with an arguably unusable facility, which by the way, was always a possibility.
On the other hand, with this MOU, the possibility of the Diamondbacks staying at Chase Field and improving it have increased…or at least I, as a taxpayer and a fan, hope it has.