On Friday, September 20, 2013 MountainStar Sports Group arrogantly hand delivered a letter to the mayor’s office and sent a copy via email. You will remember that city hall is closed on Friday’s. You are also aware that if you want to slip something by the vigilant eyes of the electorate, especially if you are trying to scam them on something, you pick a day that the local media is unlikely to spend much time on it and most people won’t notice it. That would be a Friday.
The five-page letter by Joshua Hunt with copies to Joyce Wilson, Sylvia Borunda Firth, William Studor and two law firms starts out explaining that Hunt is “writing to summarize Mountain Start Sports Group, LLC’s (“MountainStar”) proposed terms for providing funds to cover anticipated additional costs associated with construction of the new El Paso Ballpark (“Ballpark”)”. This first sentence is important to note because the letter goes on to state that after the deal to increase the cost of ballpark from $50 million to $64 million, MountainStar realized that the new amount would not be enough.
Therefore MountainStar did what it normally did before when it had more control over city hall, it “began discussing additional ways to cover” the additional expenses with the “city”. MountainStart, “anticipated additional costs…to be as much as $10 Million” more. This time MountainStar was forced to bring its request openly via a formal letter to the mayor.
New Administration; New Rules
I have been somewhat critical of Oscar Leeser on the way he has handled the ballpark fiasco and the email scandal. I am probably impatient and therefore I have not given him the opportunity to reign in the rogues at city hall. However, last Friday, September 20, 2013; Oscar Leeser revealed to me that he is indeed looking to be transparent and upfront about the ballpark fiasco.
As you all know, the letter, under the John Cook administration would not have come to light until the issue was well underway. Unlike Cook, Oscar Leeser immediately released the letter and his response to the community in order to include us in the discussion.
What a difference an engaged electorate makes.
The MountainStar letter also gives us a little bit more information from which to continue to fill in the missing pieces that many individuals have attempted to conceal. Many of us have opined that the ownership group was investing approximately $25 million dollars for this fiasco. The majority of the money is assumed to be going to purchase the team. What we didn’t know was whether the ownership group has actually spent the money or if this is just worthless paper exchanging hands between various groups. We still don’t know how much the check the ownership group is actually issuing, or has issued but we do know that it is yet to write a check for the full $25 million. I arrived at this because MountainStar states that it “projected” an “opening day investment of approximately $25 million”.
Most of you will remember that the rush to demolish city hall was because there was only one opportunity to get the team to El Paso and we couldn’t wait. From the various investigations by many activists it has been revealed that even the city’s proponents question whether there was a rush, or not.
From the letter, now we know that the ownership group has not actually spent the $25 million it, itself has stated that it has agreed to spend for this fiasco. Whether it actually writes a check for $25 million is yet to be seen.
However, the city of El Paso has already spent $65 million and it is obligated itself to somehow replace city hall in the future. Of course, now we learned that MountainStar wants another $10 million in amenities.
You will also remember that shortly after the new city council was seated, Hunt and et al came to city hall demanding that the $50 million be raised to the current $65 million. You will also note that as Hunt was leaving after being told by city council not to come back asking for more money, he mumbled something to the effect that there were other issues still to be resolved.
Well, here is the first part of the issues and possibly just one of many more.
I won’t bore you with the details of MountainStar’s letter. It is suffice to say that they will pay the additional monies, over the $64 million provided the city gives up control over the construction schedule, plans, budget and asking the city to give up use of a “Ballpark suite” to be replaced with other group seating and party suites. And, MountainStar wants to close off Missouri Street on game nights.
Oscar Leeser responded on Saturday, September 21, 2013 and immediately notified the media. Right off the bat, Leeser tells Hunt that he “cannot support the proposal as presented”. Leeser adds that “at his request, the City Attorney is currently drafting a counter proposal” for MountainStar’s review.
Leeser writes that he will consider “a proposal whereby MountainStar will fund anything in excess of the ‘not to exceed the $64 million’ contractually committed to by the City”.
In other words, if MountainStar wants amenities they need to pay for it without modifying the agreement.
Leeser closes that if by Monday, September 23, 2013 the city and MountainStar cannot come to an agreement that he will request the city manager to begin engineering so that it can be delivered at the agreed upon price.
He adds that “in the interest of transparency and allowing the City Council members to be prepared to provide their input” that he will be sharing both the proposal and his response with them. He shared both with the community as well.
Yesterday, true to his word, Oscar Leeser held a press conference where he announced that the city would not alter the terms of the contract and that any additional expenses will be paid by MountainStar. For his part, Joshua Hunt, on behalf of MountainStar back peddled desperately, blaming everything on a media misunderstanding.
I guess the demands he presented in his letter were also “misunderstanding”.