Aberdeen approves Ripken Stadium management contract with Huntley Sports Group

This story is updated from an earlier version.

The Aberdeen City Council approved an agreement Monday night to have Huntley Sports Group manage all non-baseball events through the end of 2018 at the city-owned Ripken Stadium, effective immediately.

The council voted 4-1 to sign the agreement that has been in the works for months. The stadium is home to the Aberdeen IronBirds, whose majority owners are Cal and Bill Ripken.

“This is the beginning of a deal,” Mayor Patrick McGrady said after the meeting. “It’s the culmination of months of discussion and conversation with all parties leading to the agreement signed tonight.”

It’s a product that “will help make everybody more successful — Ripken, the city and Huntley Sports Group,” McGrady said.

McGrady voted for the agreement, as did council members Sandra Landbeck, Melvin Taylor and Steven Goodin. Councilman Tim Lindecamp, who has been a staunch opponent of the deal, cast the lone vote against it.

The agreement, which expires Dec. 31, 2018, allows Huntley to act on behalf of the City of Aberdeen under the terms of the concession agreement it has with the Ripken organization and its umbrella group, Tufton Professional Baseball LLC, Huntley CEO Athan Sunderland said.

The city will receive all revenues from events it hosts at the stadium, according to the agreement. From the revenues, Huntley will be paid the costs it incurs to put on the events, plus 15 percent of expenses, according to McGrady.

“It is a violation of IRS statutes to provide a percentage of revenue to a manager” of a facility paid for with tax-free bonds, the mayor said.

The city will establish a rate schedule for use of the stadium for events, according to the agreement. The city may consult with Huntley on those fees, “but the determination of the rate scheduled shall be in the city’s sole and absolute discretion,” according to the agreement.

A year after extending an agreement that Ripken/Tufton would manage non-baseball events through the end of 2017, the city assumed that management responsibility on Jan. 1, unable to come to an agreement with Tufton regarding continuing management, city officials have said.

Tufton representatives, meanwhile, have said the city had seemed unwilling to negotiate a new deal with Tufton, which paid the city a $95,000 licensing fee to manage the non-baseball events in 2017. Such activities in the past in the past have included weddings, charity events, church services, business meetings and concerts. Tufton had offered to give the city 10 percent of the gross from non-baseball events in 2018, a spokesperson said previously.

“While we maintain the belief that we remain best positioned to run events at Ripken Stadium, we are happy to see that our community will once again be able to utilize the ballpark as a gathering place,” John Maroon, a representative for Tufton, said Tuesday. “We look forward to building a healthy and mutually beneficial working relationship with the Huntley Sports Group.”

Both parties — the city and Tufton — are working under the terms of the 2000 concession agreement, signed in 2002, the year the stadium opened, which provides the city a certain allotment of days it can host events at the stadium not related to the IronBirds.

The minor league baseball team, which is affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and is a member the Class A “short season” New York-Penn League, plays 36 home games between mid-June and early September. The team has a separate lease with the city to use the stadium that expires in 2022.

“My job is to help the city host events on those days it is allotted,” Sunderland, of Huntley, said.

Because Sunderland did not have authority to negotiate events until the agreement was signed, Huntley has not scheduled any events at the stadium, he confirmed.

His job now is to “go out and plan and procure events at the stadium provided they are in agreement with the concession agreement,” he said.

All revenues from those events will be deposited in a separate account by Huntley. The city will have access to account, Huntley will not, according to the agreement.

Deposits will include revenues “payable to HSG under contracts with users … or due and owing to the city in connection with events under the terms of the concession agreement that are collected by HSG."

The city will pay “reimbursement of all actual and direct expenses paid by [Huntley Sports Group] to unrelated parties” and “reasonable related administrative overhead expenses of [Huntley Sports Group] consisting of an amount equal to 15 percent of the actual and direct expenses paid by [Huntley Sports Group] to unrelated parties,” according to the agreement.

Unlike the first proposed agreement with HSG, which would have been granted a right of first offer to purchase the stadium should the city decide to sell the facility, this agreement contains no discussion regarding a potential sale of the stadium.

“This agreement is solely about about managing events,” McGrady said.

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