Escondido, Calif., officials say the recently adopted California budget has essentially killed their chances of bringing minor-league baseball to town.
The new budget, which strips Escondido's redevelopment agency of nearly $23 million in revenue between now and 2018, makes it impossible for the city to follow through on its plan to raise $50 million for a ballpark later this year by selling redevelopment bonds, City Manager Clay Phillips said.
"It's financially impossible," Phillips said, explaining that redevelopment revenue was the only way the city could have paid for the ballpark.
The Pacific Coast League and San Diego Padres owner Jeff Moorad have insisted that Escondido's ballpark must open by April 2013 or they will explore other options for the team Moorad bought last winter, so Escondido's problems have opened the door for other cities pursuing that team.
The Padres' Triple-A team is playing at Kino Stadium in Tucson for the rest of the 2011 season and in 2012. Where it will play beyond that is unclear. Tucson Padres general manager Mike Feder said he wants Tucson to be "a prime option" for the location of the Padres' Triple-A team.
"It just means now we have a chance to really make an impression," Feder said.
Tucson will have to make a good impression with increased attendance, Feder said. Entering Saturday, Tucson ranked last in the Pacific Coast League at 3,466 fans per home game.
"I'm confident it will improve next year when we have the whole offseason to work on it and the knowledge of what the future may hold," Feder said. "This really reinforces what we said all along: We know we have two years, and we can make it longer."
The Padres have played this season at Kino, but before the season, Feder's group looked at Hi Corbett Field as a site. The team was unable to play there because the Tucson Toros had a lease, but the Toros will play their final games Thursday at Hi Corbett. The Arizona Wildcats are also considering moving their baseball team to Hi Corbett.
Feder said the franchise will look at its options, but he noted a project to install a new infield this month at Kino cost about $15,000.
"That's a pretty big commitment," Feder said. "It needed it."
In addition, the Moorad group could revive its search for alternate sites in San Diego County. San Marcos and Carlsbad were previously considered, and Moorad said during a public forum last winter that he has been approached by other cities in the region that he declined to name.
A developer in El Paso has offered to pay all the costs for a ballpark.
Phillips stopped short of declaring Escondido out of the competition, but the only possible solution he mentioned was the Moorad group contributing millions toward ballpark construction.
The city could begin paying the money back to Moorad in roughly five years if the state doesn't make further changes to redevelopment funding, he said.
Steve Peace, an adviser to the Moorad group, said he was unsure what Phillips had in mind but said the investors were "open to any proposal that could move the project forward."
Peace said Escondido was still the Moorad group's clear-cut first choice, primarily because the 15-acre ballpark site, which is just northwest of downtown, is bordered by two freeways and the Sprinter light-rail line and presents significant opportunities for nearby development.
But Peace said the state budget, which was approved two weeks ago, had created significant hurdles for Escondido.
The budget requires cities to pay large amounts of cash to keep their redevelopment agencies alive. The money will help the state pay for public schools.
Escondido officials said they can come up with the cash, which includes $9.5 million this year and $2.2 million in subsequent years.
But the extra payments to the state would wipe out any discretionary money in the agency between now and 2018, when the city will have paid off $65 million in bonds.
Peace and Phillips said two planed lawsuits against the state, even if successful, wouldn't clear up the future of redevelopment revenue until early next year, which would be too late for Escondido to meet the April 2013 deadline for the ballpark to open.
Sarah Trotto contributed to this report