Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Arizona Wildcats watch as Toros, city wrangle over Hi Corbett Field

This is how Arizona has envisioned a new entrance to Hi Corbett.

Jay Zucker, the owner of the Tucson Toros professional baseball team won an injunction against the city last week and has moved back into Hi Corbett Field, which has been earmarked as the new home of the Arizona Wildcats baseball team.

The city evicted Zucker and the Toros from Hi Corbett Sept. 1, about two months after it had terminated the Toros’ lease of the ballpark. The city claimed that the team had “voluntarily abandoned” its use of the stadium after the team went on “hiatus” in December in the wake of the San Diego Padres Triple-A team coming to town for two years to play at the county’s Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Zucker sued the city for breach of contract Aug. 8. Two days later, the city and the university announced plans for a 10-year lease of Hi Corbett — at $250,000 per year — with the Wildcats beginning play in the 2012 season. The school has released a schedule with Hi Corbett listed as the home site.

The UA deal also includes badly needed improvements to Hi Corbett.

Zucker, whose lease at Hi Corbett runs through the 2013 baseball season, says he would be happy to coexist with Arizona, adding that the stadium has facilities to accommodate two organizations. Whether Arizona feels the same way is unclear; the university entered into the agreement thinking it would be the sole baseball tenant.

Athletic Director Greg Byrne told TucsonCitizen.com Thursday that he is not in position to comment on the ongoing legal dispute between Zucker and the city.

Zucker’s suit against the city will go to trial Dec. 6, unless the parties reach a settlement before then, City Attorney Mike Rankin said.

If the city wins, then the Arizona Wildcats can move in as originally planned.

If Zucker wins — and the injunction was a positive sign for him — then what will Arizona do?

The athletic department has made no changes to its on-campus home — Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium — and could simply return there if it had to.

“I do want to make it very, very clear that we are highly supportive of the University of Arizona’s presence at Hi Corbett,” Zucker said.

“We think it’s an absolute win-win. Our schedule and the collegiate schedule complement each other and do not conflict. The stadium has always been designed for multiple uses.”

Zucker said he would defer to any conflicts that arise in June if Arizona is selected for postseason play, moving home games to road games, if needed.

First, he has to have a team, likely trying to partner with the independent North American League.

“Now, we are able to get back in here (to our offices at Hi Corbett) and work on next season,” Zucker said. “This is a critical time, because many of the national organizations are setting up budgets for next season.”

Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham, who helped broker the UA-Hi Corbett deal, said it would be unfortunate if the UA can’t play at Hi Corbett and that he hopes a deal that’s “mutually beneficial to all parties” can be worked out before the middle of November, which is when the UA has to finalize its schedule for 2012 season.

Dates of significance

December 2010: Jay Zucker tells city that in light of the Padres coming to town, he’s putting the Toros on “hiatus” with the Golden Baseball League for 2011 and “probably” 2012.

April 6, 2011: Zucker meets with city parks director Fred Gray to discuss summer uses of Hi Corbett — June, July, August. Zucker says the city OK’d the use; the city says it never “signed” a deal to amend the Lease/License agreement.

June 24, 2011: City notifies Zucker/Toros that it is terminating the lease under a provision that says it can if the lessee “voluntarily abandons” use of the facility for 60 days. City says its agreement with the Toros was for professional baseball, not for whatever Zucker was doing with Hi Corbett that summer. Zucker says use is use and that the city agreed to it in April.

July 2011: City meets with Zucker to discuss his moving out of his office at Hi Corbett.

Aug. 8, 2011: Zucker sues the city for breach of contract.

Sept. 1, 2011: City evicts Zucker from office at Hi Corbett, changes locks.

Sept. 12, 2011: Zucker files for temporary restraining order to force city to let him back into the Hi Corbett office, saying he is suffering irreparable harm by not being there, arguing that in order for a baseball operation to succeed it needs an office in a stadium where baseball is to be played.

Oct. 7, 2011: Judge Stephen Villarreal, after hearing testimony from Zucker and city officials, rules in the Toros favor and orders the city to let Zucker back into Hi Corbett by Oct. 11.

*Source: court records

Editor Mark B. Evans contributed to this report.

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