August 21, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) Maricopa County officials took significant steps Wednesday to sell the downtown Phoenix ballpark that has been the only home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The county's Stadium District Board of Directors unanimously voted to sign a letter of intent, opening the door for Integral Group, LLC, to negotiate to buy Chase Field for a minimum price of $60 million.

''We are here today to protect the taxpayer,'' board chairman Clint Hickman said during the public meeting. ''This is the best of what private business can offer.''

Officials said any sale will not affect current agreements to keep the Diamondbacks there through the end of the team's contracted tenancy in 2027. A buyer would not be involved in issues such as ticket prices and concessions.

The letter of intent will allow the county to choose an appraiser and potential buyer to visit and inspect the property. The Diamondbacks will ultimately have to approve any final sale agreement. If a buyer later chooses not to purchase the property, the letter of intent will be void.

The decision comes amid heightened tension between the county and team officials over who is obligated to finance roughly $187 million in repairs over the next 12 years.

Team officials have suggested recently they might seek a way to leave the ballpark before the current contract with the county ends.

A lawyer representing Atlanta-based Integral Group has already told county officials that the potential investors want to keep the Diamondbacks at Chase Field and would complete stadium improvements agreed on by the team within a two-year window. According to County Manager Joy Rich, the buyer wants the stadium to be a catalyst for future economic development.

Chase Field opened in 1998 for the Diamondbacks' inaugural season. It is owned entirely by the county despite a team investment in its construction.

Diamondbacks officials submitted letters to county officials in June and July requesting funding for repairs for the fifth oldest ballpark in the National League.

One letter sought reimbursement for about $650,000 in improvements the team made to suites, the dugout, concession areas, locker rooms and heating and cooling systems. County officials denied some items and said others might be approved with additional documentation.

The other letter outlined about $64 million in proposed repairs over five years, from replacing scoreboards to renovating party lounges.

County officials agreed to continue funding structural issues such as repairs to concrete and steel, but denied other expenses as superficial.

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