League says delays could put team sale deal at risk

EL PASO, Texas - The Pacific Coast League has confirmed that if City Council votes Tuesday against approving the final phase of the contract to build a baseball stadium in the place of City Hall, the sale of the team will be in jeopardy.

City Council, in a 6-2 vote on June 26, approved a contract between the city and MountainStar Sports Group to build a baseball stadium and bring the AAA affiliate of the Padres team to El Paso.

According to the initially approved contract, the city would pay to build the baseball stadium and MoutainStar, which consists of private investors, would pay to purchase the team.

The league weighed in Monday in a letter to City Manager Joyce Wilson stating they approved the sale of the team with the assumption the stadium would be ready in El Paso by 2014.

"Without a commitment to that timeline, the PCL would not be in a position to approve the proposed transfer. If the city council were to put off its final approval, or put the deal in jeopardy, that would significantly change the basis for our approval, and we would have to re-evaluate the situation, both internally and with the current owner of the club," said the letter

City Rep. Emma Acosta has said she may vote against the ballpark deal Tuesday because she wants to the public to have the opportunity to vote on the issue. But stadium supporters have said that would put the deal at risk, a position confirmed Monday afternoon by Pacific Coast League President Branch Rickey.

Acosta, through her office staff members, refused an on-camera interview Monday. They said she was "swamped with meetings" regarding the issue.

If Acosta votes against the deal, that would be the tipping point that could make a veto by Mayor John Cook could be successful and the deal to tear down City Hall and build a baseball stadium could be off. Acosta has cited a short Sept. 6 article from the Sports Business Daily as a reason she may vote against the deal.

ABC-7 found that article which states the Padres AAA affiliate has a lease option in Tucson until 2014. Acosta has said that means El Paso has enough time to take the issue to voters. But the article also mentions that's only an option while the El Paso stadium is built and the current owner of the team, in the article, states he hopes the city finalizes the deal.

"Approvals at this point, that we've had from the league have been contingent on a vote tomorrow that's in favor of what the city did back in June, which is approving our lease agreement. I mean, if you go beyond that, everything is up in the air. And we have no idea what baseball is going to do or the seller is going to do," said Josh Hunt of MountainStar on Tuesday.

The city hopes voters will approve a 2 percent increase in the Hotel Occupancy Tax that will fund about 70 percent of the stadium. That's a tax visitors pay to stay in El Paso hotels. The rest, the city has proposed, would mostly come from baseball ticket surcharges and parking fees.

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