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Step back on stadium [Editorial]

The Aegis

It was one year ago this week that Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady and Aberdeen IronBirds General Manager Matt Slatus sat down at a table at City Hall, shook hands and signed an agreement, leaving the IronBirds and their parent company, Tufton LLC, in charge of managing non-basball events at Ripken Stadium – for one year.

At the time, the two men said the deal was an interim measure to keep continuity while city officials considered what would be best for the city-owned stadium in the years beyond.

Twelve months later, however, the future of the stadium, both its ownership and management, remains very much unresolved. McGrady and most of the city council want to sell the facility, presumably to the highest bidder, and they and Tufton, have been unable to reach any accord on future management of the facility. The mayor said last week he had been talking with another group about taking over management until the stadium can be sold. Unfortunately, one of the principals in that group died suddenly earlier this week. McGrady said the deal remains on the table, but he even he admits he isn’t sure what will happen with it.

What everyone should know, regardless, is what has transpired in the past year has been, in the words of one leader of the local business community, a “black eye” for Aberdeen and Harford County. With the mantra of wanting to do what’s best for the citizens of Aberdeen, the mayor and council and the people inside and outside city hall who are advising them, have made a series of missteps that at the very least have damaged the image of the city, its citizens, Harford County and, by extension, the Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken organization and brand, as well as the IronBirds.

We’re going to repeat here what we have said on numerous past occasions in this space: The stadium, the IronBirds and the Ripken Experience youth baseball programs are a major economic asset to the city and Harford County. They bring thousands of people to the area each year who otherwise wouldn’t come to Harford County – who in many cases would just keep on driving through on Interstate 95.

The ham-handed handling of the stadium by the city has caused significant ill will and could, in the long run, end up costing city taxpayers more money than was necessary. There is no management contract in place for 2018 and even if one were to magically occur in the next few weeks, it’s late in the game to book events.

We urge the city to at least resume talking with the IronBirds/Tufton and to extend the agreement that is expiring this week, because at least the incumbent management has the contacts in place, the experience of running things and support within the broader community. Make a two-year deal. Salvage something.

It’s really time for the city leaders to step back, take a deep breath and try to see the bigger picture beyond their collective noses and understand whom are they really serving. To this point, it hasn’t been the people who elected them to represent their best interests.

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