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Arizona Diamondbacks looking to leave Chase Field? Maybe, maybe not

While there have been rumblings about this in the past, it appears matters may be coming to a sudden head.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

"We are requesting that the Maricopa County Stadium District allow AZPB Limited Partnership (the team’s owner) the right to take such actions as it deems necessary in order to move and play Diamondbacks’ baseball games in a location other than Chase Field"

That's how the current situation, first reported by 12 News, kicked of, with a brief letter sent on March 16 from the team's President, Derrick Hall, to the Maricopa County Board. The team's current lease on the park still has more than a decade to run, expiring in 2028, though the team can begin negotiations in 2024. But the Diamondbacks have been working the angles for some time. In July 2012, they proposed moving responsibility for the stadium from the Maricopa County Stadium District to Phoenix, a change that, amongst other things, would mean they "no longer would have to make roughly $4 million in annual rent and maintenance payments to the county stadium district."

However, that change appears to have fallen through, among doubts about it being good for all parties. In particular, "former Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza said Phoenix residents, as the stadium's landlords, could end up paying for renovations expected to be needed in the next several years." That now appears to be circling closer to home, with the team citing $187 million in "deferred repairs and maintenance" The Diaimondbacks still also looking to reduce stadium capacity - according to 12 News, the cost of those changes would be anywhere between $100 and $200 million.

The D-backs latest request was roundly rejected by the board, its chairman Clint Hickman pointing out that the lease was structured precisely "to ensure that the taxpayers, who had paid $238 million in sales taxes to build the stadium (in addition to the District's undertaking an additional $15 million contribution for construction costs), would not be left with an empty stadium" It appears this was not actually the first time the team had expressed their concern, recently speaking both to Governor Doug Ducey, and current Phoenix mayor, Greg Stanton about the situation. But in a statement today, Hall unleashed both barrels:

"The Maricopa County Stadium District has made clear that it will not be able to meet its obligations to fund financial reserves for capital improvements, which it now estimates to be at least $187 million for the remaining life of the stadium.  This spiral is insurmountable and will result in a Chase Field that will no longer be a state-of-the-art facility as our agreement requires and may, in fact, become unsuitable for continued use. We cannot risk being put in that position.

"Renovations and stadium projects take time.  We would rather act responsibly today to explore alternatives for remaining in downtown Phoenix than turn a blind eye to what we now see clearly as the County’s economic reality.  We were asking only for the opportunity to talk with other potential partners, a right that we assert we are due as a result of the County’s existing in ability to meet its responsibilities.

Yep, this seems quite serious, folks - John Gambadoro is now reporting that the Diamondbacks are "expected to take Maricopa County to court over [its] inability to keep ballpark fit to play baseball." Hall also says the team want to stay both downtown, and at Chase Field. Though quite how that expressed intention, fits the letter at the top of the paragraph, and its desire "to move and play Diamondbacks’ baseball games in a location other than Chase Field," is a little hard to see. But this may be a negotiating ploy: it's a great deal harder to haggle if you don't demonstrate you're willing to walk away from the store.

We'll have more on this later, but personally, find it hard to imagine how a facility less than two decades old could "become unsuitable for continued use" so quickly. Mind you, I grew up in a house built in 1815, so what do I know? But I've never been one in favor of public funding of private sports facilities - while it has been claimed Chase Field has led to over $8 billion in economic impact, I suspect that's for some loose definition of "impact" [to me, people choosing to spend money at Chase rather than Talking Stick Resort Arena isn't real impact]. In the wake of the Coyotes fiasco, I certainly don't imagine voters are inclined to look kindly on further "sweetheart deals".

Interested to see how this plays out though.