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The City of Aberdeen has filed a countersuit to the breach of contract suit filed last year in Harford County Circuit Court by Tufton Professional Baseball.
The City of Aberdeen has filed a countersuit to the breach of contract suit filed last year in Harford County Circuit Court by Tufton Professional Baseball. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

How to move forward with Ripken Stadium is the biggest challenge the Aberdeen City Council faced in 2018, Mayor Patrick McGrady says.

“From our first day in office, the collective goal has been to get more use out of the stadium while reducing the financial burden on our city,” McGready said as he provided an update on the state of the city’s business last week. “That goal remains the same today.”

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The mayor couldn’t say more, he said, because of pending litigation.

That litigation includes a countersuit filed by the City of Aberdeen to the breach of contract suit filed last year in Harford County Circuit Court by Tufton Professional Baseball.

The city is seeking $75,000 in the breach of contract suit on Jan. 11 as well as a requirement by the court that it complete the required maintenance.

Representatives of Tufton had no comment regarding the city’s countersuit.

Aberdeen and Ripken Baseball, owned primarily by Aberdeen natives Cal Ripken Jr. and his brother, Bill, have been embroiled in negotiations for more than a year over who would manage non-baseball events at the stadium.

The City of Aberdeen is proposing an initial budget to begin its defense of a breach of contract lawsuit filed by Cal Ripken Jr. and his baseball company.

Each claims the other side hasn’t lived up to its terms of a concession agreement signed Dec. 7, 2000, that outlines use and responsibility for the stadium.

Ripken Baseball operates the Aberdeen IronBirds, the Single-A minor league baseball team that plays 38 games at the stadium each summer.

At the heart of the Ripken’s lawsuit is who manages non-baseball events at the stadium, while Aberdeen’s counterclaim focuses on Tufton’s stadium maintenance obligations.

“Tufton’s failure to prepare an adequate maintenance program and failing to perform its Non-Capital maintenance obligations have expedited the deterioration of Ripken Stadium to the point that that some of Tufton’s Non-Capital maintenance obligations have become Capital maintenance,” according to the countersuit.

The city claims that, according to a concession agreement, Tufton is responsible for an array of maintenance at the stadium, and is required to submit a maintenance plan.

Not only were Tufton’s plans non-existent from 2011 to 2016, the plans submitted in 2017 and 2018 only included the names of companies the baseball organization would use in the event it undertook any projects, the countersuit says.

“The city has fulfilled its obligation under the Concession Agreement and will continue to do so. It is Tufton, which has not submitted a maintenance program to the city in nearly a decade and which has failed to undertake numerous items of non-Capital maintenance, that has not lived up to its obligations under the Concession Agreement,” according to the suit.

Tufton claims in the suit that once the city recoups its initial investment of $3 million, plus debt service on the stadium, management of non-baseball events will revert to Tufton, except for 15 days each year allocated to the city, according to an agreement the city and Tufton signed in late 2000 as the stadium project was getting underway.

Athan Sunderland, CEO of the Huntley Sports Group hired by the City of Aberdeen to book non-baseball events for Ripken Stadium, is seeking the council's approval to book events through 2019.

Until that threshold was met, the city had authority to manage non-baseball events except for 15 days allocated annually to Tufton, though it deferred that authority to Tufton, which had been managing most non-baseball events until nearly a year ago.

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While Tufton says the recoupment date has already passed, Aberdeen claims in its countersuit the $1 million recoupment date has not occurred and its calculations of the $1 million threshold, had revenues that should not have been included.

Tufton also has an option to renew the 2000 concession agreement for an additional 20 years, at the same terms and conditions, “except for the right of the city to impose an additional yearly fee to fund such repairs and improvements to the Stadium,” according to the suit.

The annual fee can’t exceed the yearly amount required to finance such repairs and improvements over those 20 years, minus the average net receipts by the city over the last five years of the first term, according to the suit.

Aberdeen says Tufton is unreasonable in its interpretation that the fee is to be based on the costs of those repairs and improvements the city spent during the first term. It is not based on any projected cost of repairs or improvements by the city or Tufton during the next 20 years.

Tufton “shifts the burden for maintaining the Stadium as it ages during the renewal term to the taxpayers of Aberdeen rather than Tufton, which will continue to have and enjoy the beneficial use” of the stadium during the next 20 years, the city says in its suit.

Basing the renewal fee on expenses during the first 20 years “ignores the reality that as components of the Stadium reach the ends of their useful livings during the renal term, the aging stadium is likely to require substantially greater and more costly capital expenditures than were needed during the early years of the stadium’s existence,” Aberdeen claims.

The breaches of Tufton with regard to the maintenance “have caused substantial monetary damage to the city” because it paid for work that was Tufton’s responsibility.

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