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Fate of Escondido ballpark to be sealed this fall

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For the past year, San Diego Padres Vice Chairman and CEO Jeff Moorad has been looking for a site in North County to build a minor league ballpark for the Triple-A franchise.

The search might be coming to an end thanks to the California state budget, disinterest and new investors stepping up to the plate.

Toward the end of July, Moorad publicly said that if a stadium deal cannot be reached with any city in North County by the end of the minor league season -- which is Sept. 5 -- his group would sell the team.

The Moorad group has been trying to get a deal done with the city of Escondido and has been in exclusive negotiations since December, when the Escondido City Council voted 4-1 to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city and North County Baseball LLC, Moorad's group, on Dec. 15.

The MOU stipulated the parameters for the construction of an approximately $50 million ballpark and a Padres Triple-A baseball affiliate.

The MOU stated that Escondido would pay for and build an approximately 9,000-seat stadium. In exchange, the Moorad group would sign a 30-year lease to play in the proposed ballpark and would extend this obligation to future owners.

The city initially planned to use redevelopment money to pay for the baseball stadium and surrounding infrastructure like parking garages and roadways, but that has changed.

Escondido's mayor said that since redevelopment money was essentially taken away by the new state budget, the city doesn't have enough funds to build a stadium of this size.

"Understanding the governor's new plan, we would have to pay $9.5 million on top of the $5 million we would have to pay if we wished to keep open our redevelopment activities," said Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, who was referring to Assembly Bills 26 and 27, which would require redevelopment agencies to redirect money to local schools.

Steve Peace, who has been the spokesperson for Moorad's group in finding the new ballpark, said they are still talking with officials in Escondido, but now they are also talking to developers in San Marcos and Vista to see if a ballpark can be built.

Peace also said that the Moorad group has been contacted by investors in El Paso, Texas, who are interested in buying the team and moving them there.

"El Paso is pursuing very aggressively," Peace said.

Moorad has been on record as saying construction would need to start by the beginning of next year so that the Triple-A Padres affiliate could occupy it by the beginning of the 2013 season in April.

Moorad bought the Triple-A team and moved them from Portland, Ore. to Tucson, Ariz. after his group bought the team from Merritt Paulson, owner of the Padres Triple-A affiliate Portland Beavers, in October 2010.

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