The Arizona Diamondbacks dispute with the Maricopa County Stadium District over Chase Field has downtown Phoenix business leaders worried, but not panicking, over the future of professional baseball in downtown.
“Having the Diamondbacks not be downtown is something we’ve never really contemplated,” said David Krietor, president and CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc.
Krietor said the Major League Baseball franchise has been part of the fabric of downtown Phoenix since their first season in 1998. He cited the economic boost the team gives downtown during the summer, which is usually a time of an economic slowdown, as one of the team’s main contributions.
Despite this, Krietor said the improved amenities downtown have created circumstances that would soften the blow of the Diamondbacks leaving. Downtown is in a much different place than it was in 1998, given that the biomedical campus and the ASU campus were not there yet, he said.
“What’s shifted is that we needed the Diamondbacks and the sports facilities and while they’re still really important, I think downtown has changed and is helping the sports teams by having more connectivity and stronger amenities,” Krietor said.
The Diamondbacks have threatened to leave Chase Field in downtown over a dispute with the Maricopa County Stadium District over how much the team and county should provide toward maintenance and stadium improvements.
Chase Field cost $381 million to build, with $253 million coming from taxpayers and $128 million coming from the team.
Shavon McKenna, the assistant general manager of The Corner in CityScape, said although the Diamondbacks leaving would be a loss, it would not be a death blow to the area surrounding Chase Field, which includes CityScape.
“I would definitely say the dynamic and the atmosphere in downtown is gonna change without a major league baseball team, given that we’re so event-driven,” McKenna said.
McKenna, who firmly believes the Diamondbacks will not leave, echoed the sentiments of Krietor in saying that Phoenix has progressed far enough from what it was in 1998, though she did say that the Diamondbacks coming there was instrumental in starting that progression.
“Downtown Phoenix is night and day from what it was in 2001 when they won the championship,” McKenna said.
Coach’s Corner Grill general manager Kevin Grojean believes that the Diamondbacks will not leave Chase Field. Grojean thinks the Diamondbacks want to continue to be downtown and that because of that Coach’s Corner will continue on business as usual.
“There’s too much going on down here for them, they’ve done a lot for downtown Phoenix,” said Eric Stoltz, one of the owners of Coach’s Corner. “I cannot see them moving, so I’m not worried about it.”
On Monday, Diamondbacks owner Derrick Hall said in a statement to 250 season-ticket holders that the franchise would explore options to shift management of Chase Field from Maricopa County to the city of Phoenix. Despite this, however, both county and city officials have denied that any talks detailing such a move have taken place.
“The Diamondbacks are important to downtown Phoenix and keeping them in the heart of the city is a priority,” Mayor Greg Stanton said in a statement on the situation. “At this point, though, there have not been any formal discussions regarding the city’s potential role in a long-term solution and we do not have new resources to bring to the table.”
As landlord of Chase Field, the Maricopa Stadium District does not have the power to raise taxes. A transfer to city ownership would give the Diamondbacks the ability to use the city’s municipal bonding authority, allowing them to potentially make new renovations or even build a new stadium, according to an azcentral article published on Sunday.
Fields Moseley, spokesman for the Stadium District, said that the county’s priority is minimizing the burden to taxpayers, who have not paid a single cent toward the stadium since its initial construction.
“The county is open to various long-term ideas as long as they benefit the taxpayers,” Moseley said. “The county is dedicated to maintaining ownership of Chase Field and maintaining the current agreement because it is a benefit to taxpayers.”
In a letter sent to the Stadium District in January, the team cited a clause mentioned in ten different comprehensive annual financial reports that the Stadium District should be supplying funding to ensure Chase Field is state-of-the-art.
“What they’re saying about state-of-the-art is not contractually obligated,” said Darren Frank, director of the Maricopa County Stadium District. “It’s an aspirational statement.”
The Diamondbacks declined to comment.
At the heart of the dispute is the use of $187 million set out for use by the Stadium District for maintenance and repair of Chase Field. One issue the Diamondbacks have is the Stadium District not using Chase Field as a concert venue, saying that has contributed to the lack of funds. The Diamondbacks contend that even if the money were available, it would still not be enough to make it a state-of-the-art facility.
At the conclusion of the letter, the Diamondbacks requested that they be released from the contract which mandates that they play in Chase Field through 2028, and that if the Stadium District did not release them, they would go to court.
The Stadium District replied by saying they would not release them from the contract.
Contact the reporter at Daniel.Perle@asu.edu.