No deal on Aberdeen stadium as year ends, but talks continue, city officials say

The City of Aberdeen will assume responsibility for overseeing non-baseball events at Ripken Stadium beginning Monday, when control reverts to concession agreement signed in 2001, city officials said.

The decision comes amid continued negotiations with two groups for a long-term management deal on the city-owned stadium.

A one-year management contract with Tufton Professional Baseball LLC, owner of the Aberdeen IronBirds, will expire Sunday night. The city has rejected one offer from Tufton to continue, but the offer is still on the table, a spokesperson for Tufton, which is owned by brothers Cal and Bill Ripken, said Friday.

Whatever happens, the IronBirds team has a separate lease to play in the stadium into the next decade, and the team’s use of the stadium won’t be affected.

In addition, reversion to the original concession agreement on Monday is likely to have little immediate impact, because it will simply allow Tufton to continue to manage non-baseball events, with more city oversight.

While no license agreement has been reached between the city government, and Tufton or with the Huntley Sports Group, the other party the city has been negotiating with, to manage the stadium for 2018 or beyond, all parties are moving forward, Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady and City Manager Randy Robertson said this week.

Huntley Sports Group is a partnership among Pinkard Properties in Towson, MFS Advisors in New York and the late Dave Huntley, a local lacrosse legend who died Dec. 18.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” Robertson said Thursday. “Huntley Sports Group is crafting an agreement that is mutually agreeable.”

“So we extended a final long term offer to the city and will refrain from commenting until we hear from them next week,” Tufton spokesperson John Maroon texted Friday morning.

The city has been working with Tufton “to make sure we’re in position” to assume control of the stadium, Robertson said.

Because of the uncertain status of the stadium’s management, few events have been booked for 2018. Some regular events, like a Sunday church service, are set, however, he said.

“We are postured to work with them to make sure the lights are on and the seats are there,” Robertson said.

Because no agreement has been reached and the one-year extension signed last December expires Dec. 31, the concession agreement signed in February 2001 “takes over,” Robertson said.

In the meantime, the city continues to work with Huntley Sports Group to craft a new license agreement, though some meetings scheduled for earlier in December had to be postponed until after the new year following the sudden death of Mr. Huntley.

Athan Sunderland of Pinkard Properties, a partner in Huntley Sports Group, said last week they are prepared to move forward.

Robertson said Huntley Sports Group has made “what I think the [city council] agrees is a sound offer to do event management next year.”

“Huntley Sports Group has some really good long-term visions,” Robertson said.

Sunderland has told the city he has “good relationships with people who have good relationships” with the Ripken organization, Robertson said.

“He [Sunderland] believes he has the opportunity, the energy, the connections and the synergy to maybe bridge the gap and do something both short-term and long-term not only at Ripken Stadium but in that entire area that would be breath-taking if he can pull it off,” Robertson said.

Aberdeen’s mayor, McGrady, said it’s important all three parties work together and communicate.

“All parties need to be clearly communicating for anything to be successful,” McGrady said.

An agreement among the three parties will make each of them “in a much better position in terms of doing other things at the stadium while still recognizing baseball plays a foundational aspect to it,” Robertson said.

Any long-term agreement reached regarding running non-baseball events will ultimately have to be vetted by the Aberdeen City Council.

“The city council will ultimately have to say ‘yes,’” Robertson said.

Old concession agreement

The terms of the stadium’s original concession agreement were outlined in a document signed Dec. 7, 2000 by then-Aberdeen mayor Douglas Wilson and Ira Rainess of Tufton Professional Baseball. The 20-year concession agreement was to take effect the day the use and occupancy permit for the stadium was issued, according to the agreement.

According to the agreement, “The City shall exercise overall administrative overview and control of the Site, consistent with the rights and privileges granted to all parties herein. Subject to the rights of [Tufton] as set forth herein, the City shall have year-round access to the Site.”

The “City grants exclusive use of the Site for the purpose of playing and exhibiting professional baseball” including practices, exhibition games and post-season games, according to the agreement.

The City of Aberdeen is responsible for scheduling all events other than Tufton baseball events, according to the agreement.

After Aberdeen has recouped its initial investment in the stadium, “no more than 15 days shall be allocated for city events.” Aberdeen is also entitled to two city events each month from April through September on a Friday or Saturday. Those days do not include city events for a community activity.

Tufton was granted “exclusive use of the Site for the purpose of playing and exhibiting professional baseball,” including games, practices and post-season play.

The city is responsible for establishing a schedule of rental fees for all non-baseball events, “until the time the city has recouped its initial investment in the Stadium,” according to the agreement. Once it has recouped its investment, “the city’s use shall diminish… to no more than 15 days.” The city’s initial investment is determined to be $3 million of its $4 million investment – less than $500,000 of that is still owed in 2017, according to various city financial reports.

After those 15 days, “all decisions regarding rental fees and parking charges shall be made by [Tufton] and all such revenue shall be retained by [Tufton],” according to the agreement.

For city events, Tufton is responsible for operation and maintenance of the site at no cost to the city, according to the agreement.

All sales of food, beverage, merchandise and souvenirs are the responsibility of Tufton during baseball events and it shall receive the revenue from those sales. If Tufton operates concessions, etc. for city event, with 15 days advance notice, 25 percent of all gross revenue will to the city.

In addition to the city’s $4 million contribution to the $18 million stadium project, Harford County was contributing $2 million, the state $6 million and Tufton $6 million.

The city’s $4 million was broken down to $1.5 million for land acquisition, $720,000 for infrastructure improvements and a $1.78 million “city contribution.”

The state’s $6 million was to paid over three years on July 1, 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Funding from Tufton was $2,876,000 for Tufton improvements and $3,124,000 as a Tufton contribution.

The agreement also created the Ripken Stadium Authority “for the purpose of managing, maintaining and operating the Ripken Stadium.”

The authority was to consist of five members, three appointed by mayor and city council of Aberdeen and two by Tufton. After their initial appointments, terms are for three years.

The authority functioned during the first few year’s of the stadium’s operation; however, the authority at one point decided it would be more advantageous to let Tufton run all the non-baseball events and pay an annual rental. As a result, an new agreement was signed and later renewed by both sides.

That was the agreement the city and Tufton renewed last December for one more year, as city officials said they wanted to look at other long-term options for the city’s management.

The mayor and a majority of the four-member city council also have said they want to eventually sell the facility, so maintenance and any future repairs and renovations will not be the responsibility of Aberdeen taxpayers.

Earlier this year, Tufton rejected an offer from the city to assume ownership of the stadium. Huntley Group’s Sunderland said his group is not seeking to own the facility but would consider doing so if necessary to complete a long-term management deal.

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