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The City of Aberdeen and the owner of the IronBirds minor league baseball team are closing in on a settlement to their ongoing lawsuit regarding the maintenance of city-owned Ripken Stadium.
The City of Aberdeen and the owner of the IronBirds minor league baseball team are closing in on a settlement to their ongoing lawsuit regarding the maintenance of city-owned Ripken Stadium. (ALLAN VOUGHT | AEGIS FILE / Baltimore)

The owners of the Aberdeen IronBirds and their host city took an important step toward settling their ongoing dispute over Ripken Stadium when the Maryland Stadium Authority’s board of directors approved an agreement for the ballpark’s maintenance.

Tufton Professional Baseball LLC, the business entity that owns the IronBirds, filed a lawsuit against the city in October 2018, alleging breach of a December 2000 contract.

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Former Baltimore Orioles and Harford County natives Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken are majority owners of Tufton, which filed suit in Harford County Circuit Court after months of fruitless negotiations with Aberdeen officials over the management of non-baseball events during the off-season and costs for stadium maintenance.

Tufton leases the city-owned Ripken Stadium, which opened in 2002, for the IronBirds. The team, a minor-league affiliate of the Orioles, plays a short season between June and September in the New York-Penn League.

The memorandum of understanding, approved by the stadium authority board Tuesday, lays out how the city, Tufton and the Maryland Stadium Authority will collaborate to handle immediate repair and replacement projects at the stadium, conduct an assessment of the facility and develop long-term plans for routine maintenance and capital improvements.

“We are happy that the issues have been resolved, and we are pleased that the Maryland Stadium Authority will be leading the facility assessment regarding capital and maintenance improvements to ensure Ripken Stadium remains the great community gathering place it has always been," said John Maroon, a spokesperson for Tufton and the Ripkens, in a statement Thursday.

Aberdeen city officials could not be reached Thursday for comment.

A $300,000 grant for stadium maintenance was approved by the Maryland General Assembly during its 2019 session, plus the legislature has “pre-authorized” another $700,000 grant that would be allocated in the 2021 fiscal year, according to the memorandum.

The 21-page agreement, dated Nov. 4, has been signed by Cal Ripken, managing member of Tufton, and Randy Robertson, city manager for Aberdeen, according to a copy of the document provided by the stadium authority. It still must be approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works.

“Tufton and Aberdeen have agreed upon the terms of a Settlement Agreement resolving this litigation that is contingent upon approval of a separate Memorandum by the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Maryland Board of Public Works,” wrote Frederick Sussman, city attorney for Aberdeen, in a Nov. 5 letter to Harford Circuit Judge Kevin Mahoney, who is presiding over the lawsuit.

The city and Tufton had “agreed informally” to halt further litigation pending reaching a settlement agreement, according to Sussman’s letter.

Mahoney replied to Sussman and other attorneys for both parties in a letter dated Tuesday, indicating he agrees with the continued halt to litigation pending settlement.

“As always, I appreciate your efforts to resolve this matter without the need for further litigation,” Mahoney wrote.

The terms of the memorandum include a stipulation that the Maryland Stadium Authority will not spend its own funds on Ripken Stadium. Any related administrative or management costs must be reimbursed, according to the document.

The agency, however, is empowered to engage and hire contractors, supervise the planning and performance of work and pay invoices, to be reimbursed later by the city or Tufton. The Maryland Stadium Authority will “work as a team” with Aberdeen and Tufton on matters such as procurement and developing the scope of services for projects, according to the agreement.

Immediate projects, which are slated to receive state grant funding, include replacing the field netting — Tufton has submitted an invoice for $18,820 to the city for this project — plus replacing the playing field, installing LED lights in place of existing lights, eliminating bird nests from the stadium and additional projects identified by the city.

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Tufton and the city also will work with the stadium authority to conduct a facility assessment, with a projected cost of up to $500,000; the city is expected to reimburse the stadium authority for this cost.

The parties will work to develop a 10-year capital improvement plan and five-year plan for “ordinary maintenance,” according to the memorandum. The deal calls for the cost of the ordinary maintenance plan, projected to be up to $25,000, to be split by the city and Tufton.

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