Bad deal getting worse [Editorial]

The Aegis

The Ripken Stadium management fiasco continues to twist and turn in Aberdeen, with the likely conclusion that the city’s residents, as well as all of Harford County, will be the ultimate losers when the music finally stops.

During a progress report to the Mayor and City Council on July 9, the head of the outfit the city government hired to manage non-baseball events at the stadium this year essentially said there hasn’t been any progress.

A paltry number of events have been held or been booked is what Athan Sunderland, CEO of Huntley Sports Group, told the city officials, who joined with him in trying to put the best spin possible on it.

In other words, they were posturing, because the city is not getting money out of this deal, even though that was the supposed intent when the mayor and a majority of the council agreed to enter into it. Meanwhile, Sunderland told the city officials better days are ahead.

“It looks like, every weekend in the fall, we’ll have something.” Sunderland said, to which Mayor Patrick McGrady replied, “Great.”

To which, at the risk of making one of those obscure cultural references, we will replay in the words of the inimitable and late great Don Meredith, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts...” We think you get the picture.

We don’t begrudge McGrady, the council and the city manager for wanting to secure the best deal for the city’s residents and taxpayers when it comes to the use of the stadium. We also acknowledge, as we have in the past, that it costs money to maintain and repair the facility, and those costs will never go away and in fact are likely to escalate.

But those leading and those living in Aberdeen also need to realize that the stadium is an community asset, not a white elephant. The stadium brings people to Aberdeen who otherwise wouldn’t come. We’ve heard city officials grouse that people essentially just “drive on through” when they come to IronBirds games, but these same city officials also say that about the folks who work at Aberdeen Proving Ground and live in Bel Air and other places outside of Aberdeen. It’s that old Aberdeen defeatism at work that has spanned countless generations. Poor us.

With the Huntley Sports Group deal in place this year, the stadium is not being used to its fullest potential and, yes, we would also agree that much more should be gotten out of the facility than was the case before HSG showed up, too. Still, the only actual bona fide public event coming up that isn’t related to the baseball team is the final weigh-in for the Bassmaster Elite Series fishing tournament on July 29, and that was arranged by the IronBirds management, not HSG.

Meanwhile, Sunderland tells the city officials he wants their contract extended through 2019 and pledges he is working with the IronBirds ownership and management to iron out several sticking points in their relationship, but from every indication that isn’t the case, and the two sides will next be headed for some form of arbitration.

A representative of Tufton Professional Baseball, the team owner, said last week their position remains that Tufton is best equipped to manage baseball and non-baseball events at the stadium and having but a single manager is in the best interest of Aberdeen citizens, and one that will produce the most revenue. Failing to see any evidence to the contrary, we couldn’t agree more.

Aberdeen’s leadership needs to come to its senses and realize once and for all that a good working partnership with the IronBirds is the only sensible way for the city and its residents to get the full benefit possible from the stadium.

While it may seem like a long time away, the IronBirds lease on the stadium will run out in about four years. While no one involved with the team has suggested the IronBirds would ever leave Aberdeen, the current relationship with the city government can’t be a sign of encouragement about the future.

avought@theaegis.com

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