On Monday night, the Memphis City Council debated, then delayed until December 17 their decision on a proposal to purchase AutoZone Park. Reports from the meeting include a resolution to cut back on the proposed purchase price as well on facility improvement costs to be shared with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Beyond money, another main issue is the calendar. The other key parties involved, the Cardinals and New York-based Fundamental Advisors, had stated intent to close the deal by December 31. That seems unlikely at this point.
Fundamental Advisors is the party with the most power but about which the least information is known. Several years ago, the firm acquired defaulted bonds issued for the construction of AutoZone Park and is now looking like it wants to cash out.
The basic math seems pretty simple. As the City wants to pay less, either the Cardinals must step up and pay more or Fundamental Advisors must agree to accept less.
One very possible reaction by Fundamental if the current proposal fails is a loss of patience. They have no long-term vested interest in the City, the ball park or the Redbirds. They are truly in this to make money. After all, that is their business.
Specifically, Fundamental could bring matters to a head by foreclosing on the ballpark and team and selling them off to the highest bidders.
While there are risks for all parties, one scenario might actually work out for the City. One would have to think bidders for a downtown Memphis baseball-only stadium would be relatively few. Perhaps the City could acquire AZP via auction at a lower price than what is being asked today.
The bigger risk could be the potential loss of the Redbirds franchise, which does not have to remain coupled to the ballpark. It is unclear how far the Cardinals would be willing to go to continue to be a part of this rescue. If the Cardinals were outbid for the Redbirds (assuming they would even be bidders), a new owner would have several options. At least, it could try to drive a more aggressive lease for AZP than the Cardinals have offered to pay or even worse for the locals, choose to relocate the club to another city.
While it seems extremely likely that another minor league team would move into Memphis and AZP if the Redbirds would depart, it may or may not be at the Triple-A level. Further, its affiliation may not with be an organization as strong as the Cardinals. Still, one would have to assume that minor league baseball would continue in Memphis no matter what.
Of course, all this unraveling would take more time. It seems unlikely to me that any of these possible changes would impact the 2014 season.
The current Player Development Contract between St. Louis and the Redbirds only runs through this upcoming summer. In other words, if the owner of the team and/or the Cardinals wanted to consider a new partner starting in 2015, that would be allowed this coming fall.
There is still time for this to be resolved to keep the Memphis Redbirds in AutoZone Park beyond 2014, but the alternatives at least have to be considered.
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