By Denny Barney
As the legal process plays out in the lawsuit the Arizona Diamondbacks filed against the Maricopa County Stadium District, I’d like to take a minute to address some of the facts of the case, which can get muddied by well-intending people on both sides.
Let’s start with the oft-cited “$180 million” number from the 2013 facility assessment study. In many respects, this is a wish list of possible improvements at Chase Field over the life of the contract. As a wish list, it includes both necessary capital repairs as well as discretionary upgrades. Under the contracts, the team is not just entitled to anything it wants. Many things on that list are just suggestions to be done at the end of the current term, on the assumption the stadium remains a ball field. For example, one of the items on the wish list is a new jumbotron in 2027.
I’ve heard some talk that because the study is more than four years old, the list of needed repairs has probably grown. Actually, the opposite is true, because capital repairs are made every year. The Stadium District has spent nearly $50 million on capital repairs and additional amenities requested specifically by the team. The reserve fund will have enough money to cover all capital repair projects, so long as the Diamondbacks keep paying the same rent.
Another issue involves money from non-baseball events. The team has argued that the Stadium District does not make enough money from those events and, therefore, does not have enough money to pay for needed repairs. This is not true. Revenue from outside events was never intended to be the primary source of funding for capital repairs. The Diamondbacks were originally the booking agent of non-baseball events at Chase Field but had limited success and turned over booking management rights to the county. The county has done far better.
Recently, it has been suggested that supervisors allow the team to explore other stadium options as long as those options are within Maricopa County.
Here is the reality: There are no public funds going into the stadium today, nor is there authority to collect additional taxes. The current deal protects taxpayers. The Diamondbacks signed a 30-year agreement which runs until 2028. In 2024, the team could begin looking for another place to play. If the team left early, we would have an empty stadium. Leaving a hole in the ground in the middle of downtown Phoenix is not good for anyone.
The bottom line is this: Taxpayers do not spend anything to maintain Chase Field right now, and it is and will continue to be well maintained. New stadiums are extremely expensive – the new one in Arlington, Texas is expected to cost more than $1 billion – and public appetite for the bonds that fund them may be lower than Congress’ approval rating. The current arrangement was designed to protect taxpayers, and your board members will continue to be good stewards of Chase Field.
Denny Barney is a Gilbert resident and chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.