The City of Aberdeen is seeking "an interested party" to purchase Ripken Stadium after the Aberdeen IronBirds' business entity — and sole tenant of the stadium — declined an offer to purchase the facility for $1, Mayor Patrick McGrady announced Monday evening.
The city made the offer, with the full support of the four-member City Council, Oct. 3 following a closed council meeting on how to handle a relationship between Aberdeen and Tufton Professional Baseball, the organization that manages business affairs for the Aberdeen IronBirds. usiness ownership entity, that is becoming more and more fractured.
The offer came with five years free of paying property taxes, a pledge to lobby Harford County officials for the same "temporary tax relief" and another pledge to pay off $2.3 million that the city still owes on debt it took on to build the stadium in 2002, according to a statement McGrady read during Monday's City Council meeting.
"We are unable to say for sure that the enhancements offered to Tufton would be the same [for] another party," McGrady stated. "The intent was for Tutfton to have first rights, but they declined and as repeatedly stated, we feel the status quo is no longer an option."
Tufton officials have said they are not interested in owning Ripken Stadium, as only four out of more than 150 minor-league teams around the country own their stadiums.
"Even with tax incentives and the opportunity to own the ballpark debt-free, the opportunity, particularly given only 72 hours to make a decision, was not one Tufton was able to entertain at the time," John Maroon, a Tufton spokesperson, wrote in an email Tuesday.
He said city officials requested an answer by 5 p.m. last Friday on Oct. 6.
Tufton and city officials have been split over their efforts to work out a long-term agreement over whether the city or the team should manage non-baseball events at the stadium.
The IronBirds, of which former Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken are majority owners, are a minor league affiliate of the Orioles. The team is slated to remain in Ripken Stadium until Tufton's 20-year lease ends in 2022.
The team and the city have a licensing agreement in effect through Dec. 31, under which Tufton manages non-baseball related events, keeps the revenues and pays an annual license fee. The fee is $95,000 for 2017.
"Remember, there's only one issue at hand: who will operate events beginning on January 1, 2018," Maroon wrote in the email. "Tufton did offer to review the City's opportunity once a License Agreement had been reached; however, the City let Tufton know that the only path forward was to purchase the ballpark and to provide an answer to that opportunity by 5 p.m. last Friday, October 6."
Cal Ripken Jr., a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, and Bill Rikpen grew up in Aberdeen. Bill Ripken, their sister and mother still live in Harford County. Cal Ripken lives in Annapolis.
The Ripken brothers, IronBirds General Manager Matt Status and team executives met with staffers from The Aegis Oct. 2 at Ripken Stadium to discuss their concerns about the ongoing disagreement with the city.
"While we're all disappointed that Tufton will no longer operate events beginning on January 1, it has been Tufton's position all along that if the City felt it was in its best interest, or in the collective best interests of its citizens, Tufton had no issue with the City operating events," Maroon wrote. esday.
He said Tufton officials stated their position to Aberdeen leaders last November "in the hopes of eliminating drawn-out and protracted negotiations."
The Ripkens also are majority owners of Ripken Baseball, which operates youth baseball tournaments at The Ripken Experience Aberdeen. That facility is adjacent to the stadium, but the operation is separate from the IronBirds and Ripken Baseball has ownership of those properties.
During Monday's council meeting, McGrady highlighted how The Ripken Experience Aberdeen events are a major draw for out-of-town visitors who patronize Aberdeen hotels, restaurants and gas stations.
The city expects to take over events management at the stadium in 2018. McGrady said city staff will handle those duties next year while city officials look for another stadium buyer.
"As this council has consistently and will continuously echo, we absolutely want the IronBirds to be successful," McGrady said. "We want baseball in Aberdeen, and we recognize and commend their many worthwhile community activities."
The mayor also stressed, however, that Aberdeen taxpayers should not continue to bear the majority of the costs to maintain the 15-year-old stadium, especially since it is only used for 38 games each year during the IronBirds' short season.
He said city officials have lobbied Tufton officials to host more community events at the stadium. Events such as weddings and church outings already take place there, and city officials want more events to help defray debt service and maintenance costs.
McGrady has stressed that he does not want the city to be in the events-management business, a fact he reiterated Monday.
"We want more people to be able to take advantage of a variety of public events held at the stadium, and we want the burden on our taxpayers to be minimized to the greatest extent possible," the mayor said.
The city has spent more than $5 million over the past five years on debt service and maintenance, including $1 million in 2016 to replace handrails, McGrady said.
The city spends about $600,000 a year on debt service, with about $2.3 million slated to be paid off over the next four years.
McGrady said this amounts to a cost of $200 a year per Aberdeen household, based on the city finance director's calculations. The $200 figure applies to taxpayers who own a "moderately valued" house; owners of houses with higher values contribute $400 or more each year, he said.
"There's no other business in Aberdeen where tax dollars are used to pay off debt and maintain a facility," McGrady said.
The statement, written as a letter to Aberdeen residents and business people, was signed by the mayor and three council members Steven Goodin, Sandra Landbeck and Melvin Taylor.
Councilman Tim Lindecamp did not sign the statement. He has differed with his colleagues on how the city should proceed in its relationship with Tufton and even tried to work out a license agreement with Tufton officials on his own. He also met over the summer with Mike Gill, Maryland's secretary of commerce, for support in the negotiations.
He could not get support from fellow council members, however, and city and Tufton officials decided to revert back to a 2002 concession agreement — when the current licensing agreement expires — and have the city manage events.
"Without a licensing agreement, the City of Aberdeen will receive zero money from Tufton Baseball," Lindecamp said, reading from his own statement Monday.
He stressed that a new licensing agreement is needed, as the city does not have the resources to manage stadium events.
"The mayor stated we are bleeding our taxpayers," Lindecamp said. "We will be bleeding them even more if we need to hire an events manager."
He encouraged people to contact him if they disagree with his proposals.
"I hope, at the end of 2018, that the city running events is profitable and I will be the first to admit that I was wrong," Lindecamp said. "But at this time, I don't believe that's going to happen."