Aberdeen offered to sell Ripken Stadium for $1 to IronBirds organization; mayor says 'no deal' in place

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said Monday “there is no deal” in place for the city to sell Ripken Stadium to the organization that manages business affairs for the Aberdeen IronBirds.

On Friday, the minor-league baseball team disclosed the city proposed selling the 6,300-seat stadium to Tufton Professional Baseball, which manages the team acquired in 2002 by Orioles icon Cal Ripken Jr. and his brother, Billy Ripken.

“Tufton is not interested in purchasing the stadium,” the team said in a letter Friday to the mayor and City Council. “Only four of 159 affiliated professional minor league baseball clubs own their facilities, none of which are in the State of Maryland.”

McGrady confirmed the offer Monday afternoon without elaborating on its terms.

“The city has made an offer to sell the stadium to Tufton Professional Baseball,” he said. “As of today, there is no deal to sell the stadium to the tenant.”

On Monday night, the mayor and several council members provided more detail. In an open letter to the city, they said the city offered to sell the stadium for $1, effectively waive the first five years of city government property taxes and have Aberdeen assume the remaining debt service.

“Every member of this Council felt that over the long run providing Tufton with the ability to own and manage the stadium would outweigh these expenses,” the letter said.

It said Tufton representatives "declined our offer.”

McGrady has said the stadium is underutilized — the IronBirds play 38 home games — and that more could be done to attract revenue-generating gatherings. The city has considered whether a professional management organization could better handle the task.

Day-to-day stadium maintenance and bookings are Tufton’s responsibility, but large capital projects such as structural repairs fall to the city, which continues to pay the debt service of $600,000 a year.

McGrady, 31, has called the stadium a “non-performing asset” and said he is seeking "financial relief” for Aberdeen citizens.

“We appreciate their presence but the cost of ownership is greater than the revenue generated for the city by owning the facility," the mayor said last week.

The stadium hosts proms, weddings, charity fundraisers and other events. In 2015, the Ripkens signed a title sponsor — Leidos, a large national security contractor — and the facility was renamed “Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium.”

The IronBirds, the Orioles' Class A New York-Penn League short-season affiliate, draw an average of about 4,000 fans per game. "Birdland begins in Aberdeen" is a team promotional slogan, referring to its place among the Orioles’ farm teams.

But Ripken Jr., 57, a Hall of Famer and one of the Orioles’ greatest players ever, is locked in a dispute with officials of Aberdeen, his hometown, over who should manage non-baseball events at the stadium.

Under a 2013 agreement, Tufton keeps the revenue from non-IronBirds bookings and pays the city an annual licensing fee. That pact is due to expire Dec. 31 and the parties have been unable to agree on an extension. If the deal lapses, control of non-baseball events at the stadium will revert back to the city.

McGrady said Aberdeen isn’t looking to take over event management.

“No city is good at managing public facilities like this. It’s a business, and government is not a business,” he said Friday.

Rather, the mayor said, he is looking to strike a deal with the Ripkens that would provide the city with a “more equitable’ cost-sharing agreement with the club.

In an interview last week, Ripken expressed frustration with the negotiations. He said the city has not stuck to the ”simple issue” of discussing a license agreement and has instead made a series of additional stadium-related proposals.

Those include charging a proposed 50-cent-per-ticket “facility fee” that would be dedicated to stadium maintenance.

Team management has rejected the new fee.

“That would have a damning effect on our business operation,” said Matt Slatus, the IronBirds’ general manager.

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