The Aegis
Harford County

Aberdeen extends Ripken Stadium lease for one year, as officials continue to debate city's role

Aberdeen IronBirds General Manager Matt Slatus, left, and Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady shake hands after signing a new lease agreement Monday for Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium.

The city of Aberdeen and Tufton Professional Baseball signed a one-year lease extension Monday night for Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium bringing to an end months of negotiations.

The city's three-year lease with Tufton, the umbrella organization for Ripken Baseball, which owns and manages the Aberdeen IronBirds, had lapsed in July. The new lease expires Dec. 31, 2017 and requires Ripken Baseball to pay the city $90,000 a year, up from $65,000 this year, to cover maintenance and repair of the stadium.


IronBirds General Manager Matt Slatus presented McGrady with a check for $35,000 Monday night, Ripken Baseball's final payment for the 2016 season.

The increase in the lease is negligible, Aberdeen City Manager Randy Robertson said.


Responsibility for handling any events at the stadium, be they baseball or other activities such as concerts, wedding, meetings, will continue to fall to Ripken Baseball and Tufton.

What the city really wanted was a short-term lease so it could explore other options for running events at the stadium outside of baseball, he said.

The city is "absolutely not" in the position to manage the stadium or outside events and has been talked to some organizations about potentially taking over that responsibility, Robertson said.

"It postures us to look at professional management of outside activities," he said, adding that the stadium is "really only used a fraction of the year for ball."

"For 2018, we will look, we may not do it, but the time will provide us the opportunity to look at, in partnership with Tufton, what may work for other events besides baseball," Robertson said.

"In executing this document the city recognizes the tremendous economic and social value that Ripken Baseball, their thousands of youth sports events annually and the IronBirds contribute to not only Aberdeen, but to Harford County and the state of Maryland," according to a formal statement from the city about the new lease agreement. "Concurrently, through an increased leasing fee, Ripken Baseball recognizes the value the stadium holds to the city of Aberdeen and its citizens."

Aberdeen and Ripken Baseball representatives are "tremendously excited" about the agreement and "the foundation it provides for the continuation of Ripken Baseball, including youth events and the Aberdeen IronBirds, in our city along with improved investment returns for Aberdeen citizens," the statement adds.

"We're excited to be in Aberdeen, we're excited to be a community asset," Slatus said. "For 15 years we've had a prosperous relationship."


Months of talks

Talks between the city and Tufton ramped up over the late summer and early fall. One option favored by McGrady was to have the IronBirds take full control of the facility and be responsible for associated costs and all use decisions, but the mayor also insisted the city would not sell the stadium outright.

At the city government's off-site retreat on Nov. 12, however, McGrady and Robertson said they had discussed a short-term extension for the lease, which amounts to a concession agreement and dates to 2002. Tufton had a proposal on the table for a longer term, they said; however, the two city officials said Aberdeen needed more flexibility to determine its future course with the facility.

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Robertson also said they had met with representatives of the Maryland Stadium Authority who said they weren't interested in getting involved in day-to-day management of the stadium but "may be willing to help us figure out what we want to do going forward."

He also talked with officials in other municipalities that have minor league baseball stadiums about ownership and management arrangements.

As owner of the stadium, the city is responsible for the cost of operating it and for paying off the remainder of the bond debt incurred to build it. The current budget for the stadium is $713,000, of which $600,000 is for debt service and the remainder for operations. The old lease paid the city $60,000. Other revenue includes the amusement tax on baseball and other admissions and the 6 percent county lodging tax on hotel rooms within the city. The city also collects rent from land leases on the neighboring Ripken Baseball youth complex.


A couple of issues complicated the negotiations for a new lease.

In November, Tufton/Ripken Baseball began seeking outside investors to take up to a 49 percent interest in the IronBirds, with Ripken family members Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken retaining majority control. Ripken representatives, however, insisted that controlling interest in the franchise was not for sale and the team was committed to staying in Aberdeen.

Also discussed over the summer is how much Ripken Baseball should be responsible, if at all, for repairs to the 15-year-old facility. The two sides have developed a list of critical repairs and proposed enhancements to the stadium which the city, as owner, is responsible for funding. The total cost of that work is estimated at $3.1 million.

In late September, the city let contracts to replace the stadium's railings and their foundations at a cost of just under $1 million. Part of the work is being funded from a 2015 state grant toward stadium improvements, with the city picking up the tab for the rest.