The Aberdeen City Council has agreed to spend almost $1 million to replace railings at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, prompting a debate on how to pay for ballpark-related costs going forward.
Earlier this summer, an engineering assessment of the 15-year-old home of the Aberdeen IronBirds Class A Baltimore Orioles minor league affiliate, concluded more than $3.1 million worth of repairs and fan enhancements would be needed over the next 10 years.
As the council voted Monday night to proceed with the railing replacement – considered the most pressing issue from a fan safety standpoint, City Manager Randy Robertson mentioned the city might consider selling the stadium, which has long been a drain on Aberdeen's finances, as a possible future option.
"I am not sure why we can't figure out some way to get more money out of that stadium," Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said.
Mayor Patrick McGrady agreed the city needs to generate some cash flow or look at all its financial options for the stadium.
"It's a big chunk of change, to fix that stadium," he said.
The council unanimously agreed to award a contract for $358,000 to Whiting-Turner in Newark, Del., for repairs to the concrete around the base of railings throughout the stadium and a contract for $635,590 to Tuttle-Dant Clayton Corp., of Fisher, Ind., to replace the composite plastic railings.
The project will be funded by a $450,000 grant approved by the Maryland General Assembly in 2015 and city funds, according to Public Works Director Kyle Torster.
Although McGrady wanted to further review the overall repair and renovation needs for the stadium – and possible strategies for paying for them – before proceeding, Councilman Tim Lindecamp said he saw no reason to wait.
"It's a safety thing," Lindecamp said, calling the railing project "pretty cut and dried."
Robertson told McGrady the only currently available option for paying the city's share of future repairs and maintenance is by "taking it out of the general fund."
That will be complicated, he said, by other potential new expenses hanging over the city's head, among them stormwater management programs to avoid federal fines like those recently levied on Bel Air and Havre de Grace.
"It's not a happy picture," Robertson said.
Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said: "I am not sure why we can't figure out some way to get more money out of that stadium."
The sole tenant of the city-owned stadium is the Ripken Baseball organization, which owns the IronBirds, and pays the city approximately $60,000 to use the facility on a year-round basis for baseball and non-baseball events, Robertson said last month. Aberdeen also receives local admissions and amusement tax revenue from stadium events.
Although the city is responsible for stadium maintenance, Ripken Baseball officials noted last month that their organization worked with legislators to secure the 2014 grant being used for the railing repair project.
The current stadium lease is coming up for renewal and preliminary discussions have begun, according to both parties.
On Wednesday, McGrady clarified that there are no plans, nor have there been any discussions, about selling the stadium.
"In my opinion, it would be wonderful" if Ripken Baseball took over the stadium, he said, but cautioned there have been no discussions thus far about substantiative chances in the relationship with Ripken Baseball.
The mayor added, however, that "the city is in a position now where we are, effectively, managing a stadium."
All four of Maryland's minor league stadiums are owned by government entities.
The largest, Prince George's Stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox, is owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which encompasses Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Salisbury's Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds, is owned by Wicomico County, while Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys, is owned by the City of Frederick. Both were built in the 1990s and are about the same capacity as Ripken Stadium.