Aberdeen affirms plan to sell Ripken Stadium

Aberdeen’s mayor and City Council, at a special meeting Monday evening, unanimously affirmed their intention to try and sell Ripken Stadium to relieve the city of one of its financial burdens.

The mayor and City Council also unanimously agreed that at next Monday night’s meeting they would meet with the city’s bond counsel to get questions answered about the remaining financing on the stadium and to select a firm to market the stadium’s sale.

The elected officials also heard from members of the community that Aberdeen has been hurt by the city’s perceived tone toward the Ripkens over future stadium ownership, as well as negotiations over who controls non-baseball events at the facility.

Aberdeen natives Cal Ripken Jr. and his brother, Bill Ripken, are the principals in IronBirds ownership and the Ripken Experience. The IronBirds are Aberdeen’s short-season Class A professional baseball team, and the Ripken Experience is a youth facility next to the stadium that hosts camps and tournaments.

Some said they don’t want to see that business harmed.

“I urge you to abandon this,” Ryan Burbey, an Aberdeen resident known throughout Harford County as the head of the teachers union, said about selling the stadium. “It’s creating terrible press. It’s creating terrible will. It just doesn’t make sense. This is just crazy.”

Selling Ripken Stadium “is not a decision to be made lightly,” said Thomas Fidler, a Harford County resident and vice president with Mackenzie Commercial Real Estate, that has done business with Aberdeen. “This is a very emotional thing. It needs to be properly thought out.”

At issue is ownership of Ripken Stadium, which has been home to the Aberdeen IronBirds since 2002.

City officials have long maintained that the debt service on the stadium, as well as liability for maintenance and repairs, has created an undue hardship on Aberdeen’s budget.

The debt service on the stadium, according to budget figures the city made available at Monday’s meeting, has ranged from $599,859 in 2013 and $599,656 in 2017 while staying at about $596,000 the three years in between.

During that same five-year period, stadium revenue has been at least $263,957 and not more than $400,280. That does not include about $600,000 annually in room tax revenue that was to go specifically toward the stadium costs, or money the state contributed to recent repair projects.

The state contributed $450,000 toward the $633,535 in maintenance for 2014 and $493,590 of last year’s $1,083,114 handrail and concrete replacement.

The mayor and City Council repeated earlier claims that its mission is to get a better deal for Aberdeen.

Any sale or new agreement “should address the economic good of our community,” Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said. “We should hope that [any new owners] are looking to retain the IronBirds and not kick them out.”

Discussion at Monday’s meeting sounded more conciliatory.

“This is a real important asset to the region,” Fidler said. “It’s unfortunate it has gotten this far. All you’ve done in the press is make everyone aware that there’s a conflict.”

Steve Johnson, president of the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, said what’s been made public about the city’s wish to sell the stadium and its negotiations with the Ripkens over control of non-baseball events hasn’t been good.

“This has created somewhat of a panic in the business community, not just in Aberdeen, but in the county,” Johnson said.

Johnson said youth sports is a $43 million a year business in Harford County, adding it’s the lifeblood of the county’s hotel business.

“They survive on the Ripken Experience,” he said.

Fidler encouraged the mayor and City Council to be prepared for a slow process, which will ultimately be more beneficial to Aberdeen.

“This has to be thorough, it has to be complete,” he said about any proposal to sell Ripken Stadium.

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