When the Arizona Diamondbacks walk off the Tucson Electric Park baseball field for the final time this afternoon, Pima County taxpayers will be stuck with a $22.7 million bill to pay off the vacant stadium.
Without revenue from the spring training baseball games, the money to pay off the construction debt - about $1.5 million a year - must come from the county's general fund, which is also used to operate the Sheriff's Department and programs for parks and recreation, health care and public services.
Some of the $3 million annual debt payment - which the $1.5 million construction debt is part of - will come from the lodging tax collected at hotels, and from surcharges on recreational vehicles and rental cars. But taxpayers will likely have to kick in about another $1.5 million a year from the general fund to cover the rest, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.
In what county Supervisor Ramón Valadez called "an abuse of the public," the Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies, who train at Tucson's Hi Corbett Field, will move to a new stadium near Scottsdale next year. A few years ago, the teams told the city and county, at a meeting with then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, that they could not train in the same facility because they are division rivals, Valadez said.
Pima County built the major-league spring training stadium and associated practice fields for $38 million in 1997. The Chicago White Sox and the Arizona Diamondbacks signed 15-year contracts to play at Tucson Electric Park, on East Ajo Way west of South Country Club Road.
The White Sox left a year ago, and the Diamondbacks will play their final home game in Tucson today. "What's disappointing is that we rely in good faith on the teams' commitment," Supervisor Sharon Bronson said.
Huckelberry called the teams' seventh-inning exits unethical, and Valadez said it was a conspiracy.
The debt has historically been covered by the county's share of spring training ticket sales and parking revenue, said Hank Atha, deputy county administrator. Without games, the county's general fund will have make up the difference, Huckelberry said
Pima County has been trying to court Japanese baseball teams to use the facilities for training in future years, and it has discussed using the stadium for college or Little League baseball tournaments, and concerts and other entertainment events.
One-day concerts may bring in money, but nothing like monthlong spring training, Atha said. Youth tournaments generate a lot of interest, but in the past they've overlapped with major-league spring training. That conflict will disappear in future years here.
"Revenuewise for the county, it's not going to replace spring training," Atha said, even though such tournaments have an economic impact on the community as a whole.
At about $3 million a year, the debt is set to be paid off by 2019.
"I originally voted against this when I was first on the board in 1997, because I wasn't sure we could force them to honor their commitments, and obviously they did not," Bronson said. "In the end, who loses? Every taxpayer in Pima County."
Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at 807-7790 or email@example.com