By CECiLiA CHAN
GSN Managing Editor
Gilbert’s claim against Big League Dreams for repairs to the baseball facility has ballooned from $5 million to over $36 million.
The former operator of what is now Cactus Yards contended Gilbert has enlarged its liability demand to “touch upon nearly every aspect of the Sports Park” and included all the damages and defects alleged in the town’s suit against the builder, according to court documents.
“First of all, the town is not attempting to double-recover anything,” said Robert Grasso, an outside attorney hired by Gilbert to handle the litigation.
“The town claim is comprised of full damages that are recoverable as a result of BLD Gilbert’s breach of the maintenance and operations agreement for the sports park,” he continued, adding:
“What we made clear in the case the damages we are recovering is the full amount of damages consisting of actual reconstruction expenses plus the cost of additional reconstruction the town had to forego because of budgetary constraints.”
He said Gilbert has disclosed all the claims will be offset by the $13.5 million it won in a settlement against the park’s builder M. A. Mortenson and Co.
“We believe the town’s damages claim against BLD-Gilbert is larger than $20 million,” Grasso said, adding that BLD-Gilbert in turn is seeking $1.5 million in damages from Gilbert.
The Gilbert Sun News filed a public records request to the town for expert Ted Bumgardner’s report that detailed the damages totaling $36.3 million, but town officials denied the request.
Town Attorney Chris Payne said the report was not subject to disclosure under Arizona public record laws.
“Because the expert report was created by Mr. Bumgardner at the direction of outside counsel to further the Town’s position in the litigation, I do not believe the expert report qualifies as a public record,” Payne said in his letter to Gilbert Sun News.
“Further, unlike the many court documents produced in the litigation to date that have been filed with the Clerk of the Court (and thus open to public inspection at the Clerk’s Office), the expert report has not been filed with the Clerk of the Court,” Payne wrote.
Payne added that even if the report could be considered a public record, the town would not release it on the grounds that non-disclosure serves the town’s best interest and would negatively impact the town’s position in the litigation.
Big League Dream’s attorney Michael Van also would not release the expert’s report but said both sides have agreed to mediation set for sometime in the fall.
The California-based company operates 10 recreational sports facilities in the country that feature scaled-down replicas of famous ball fields like Fenway Park in Boston and Yankee Stadium in New York.
Gilbert was Big League Dreams’ only Arizona location, when the town in late 2007 handed it control of the $40 million sports facility.
The town floated bonds to pay for the construction, which increases the project’s cost to $53 million when bond interest is added through the last payment in 2021.
The attraction opened in 2008 but was abruptly closed in July 2017 by the town, which cited needed safety repairs. Two months later, Gilbert severed its contract with Big League Dreams.
The town sought legal actions against the builder, and Big League Dreams for not maintaining the park. Gilbert’s settlement from the builder went toward park repairs such as structural deficiencies in the grandstand and bringing stairways and handrails up to compliance with the Americans with Disability Act.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison said the town spent $14.9 million on renovations at Cactus Yards but the figure can be slightly above or below after the year-end budget closeouts, currently underway, are completed.
After 18 months, the park re-opened in January with a new name, Cactus Yards, and with the town as its operator.
To date, the town has spent $413,236 in attorneys’ fees, expert fees and costs, according to Harrison.
“I believe the litigation is appropriate,” Councilman Jared Taylor said. “Yes, it’s going to be expensive.”
His big concern is the town operating the facility, which includes a 20,000-square-foot indoor multi-purpose pavilion and batting cages.
It’s a “million-dollar loser every year at best,” he said. “That is the best case scenario. We’re likely going to lose $2 million to $3 million annually.”
“There’s issues that need to be resolved but the biggest issue is why are we owning something we have no business of operating especially with a structural loss of well over $1 million a year.”
Town Council was schedule to meet behind closed doors last week to discuss Big League Dreams.