Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Clock is ticking for Dunedin to sign deal with Toronto Blue Jays

DUNEDIN — Conceptual details for the contract to keep the Toronto Blue Jays in the city for the next 25 years are coming together, but the window for signing on the dotted line is closing in.

The City Commission is now expected to vote on a final agreement in November. A deal is required before the city can apply for state dollars to help fund $81 million in upgrades to the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the training site at the Englebert Complex on Solon Avenue.

Pinellas County, with a potential contribution of $41.7 million in bed taxes to bankroll the bulk of the renovations, won't be cutting its check until a deal between the city and the team is reached.

"I have said all along I'm very supportive of the concept," said County Commission Chair Janet Long. "I will not support any of it until that deal with the city is signed, sealed and delivered."

At a recent workshop, county commissioners also worried whether the city would be able to secure the proposed $13.7 million from the state given the current political climate. Commissioner Charlie Justice asked for the city's agreement with the team to include a plan for if the state funds don't come through, which with "current leadership in Tallahassee, is a reasonable possibility."

Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she is confident the deal will be reached by November but said the process is being waded through delicately to protect the taxpayers.

"It is a very complex document to work through and it takes as much time as it takes to ensure our residents are protected, and that's what we've been doing," Bujalski said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Public gets first look at proposed Toronto Blue Jays stadium renovations in Dunedin (w/video)

The City Commission approved conceptual details last week that would lock in the following: 15 major league games each year; the Blue Jays paying the first $150,000 of the property tax bills with the city and the team splitting the balance; the city covering the estimated $150,000 annual property insurance; and the team covering liability insurance and all maintenance and operational personnel costs.

The public would retain the current use of the facility for Little League, high school baseball games, camps and use of the parking lot for parade staging, according to Parks and Recreation Director Vince Gizzi.

Although negotiations are still being finalized, it's proposed the Blue Jays would "make best efforts" to use local businesses for concessions. The team is slated to collect all revenue from stadium parking while the city would collect from parking in city-owned lots, such as the nearby library.

The funding structure calls for the city to contribute $5.6 million, the state $13.7 million, and for the county and team to cover the remaining $61.7 million together.

The Tourist Development Council in April originally agreed to contribute no more than $46.5 million for its share, with the Blue Jays pitching in $15.2 million. However during recent negations on the conceptual agreement, County Administrator Mark Woodard said the team agreed to increase its contribution to $20 million — lowering the county's needed pledge to $41.7 million.

The stadium renovations account for about 40 percent of the total $81 million. The rest will go toward building a new clubhouse with offices for the team's staff, and showers and locker rooms for the team's 200-plus major- and minor-league players at the Englebert Complex.

The proposed funding agreement between the county and the team also includes the Blue Jays implementing an aggressive marketing campaign for Pinellas County tourism. That would include scoreboard advertisements, promotions on the team website, and marketing for the county in the Rogers Centre in Toronto, which has not been done before, Woodard said.

Woodard said the conceptual agreement also calls for the county to receive 0.75 cents back for every dollar saved if construction costs come in under the $81 million budget.

The county would also control naming rights for the upgraded stadium, but the team would have first opportunity to find a naming sponsor to generate $100,000 a year or more, Woodard said.

"I do support that because they have an entire department with the Blue Jays organization that does corporate sponsorship and naming rights," Woodard said. "That is not an expertise of Pinellas County government."

Although the name of the stadium will change, Deputy City Manager Doug Hutchens said the city has insisted on keeping the historic sub-names of Grant Field, Englebert Complex and Vanech Recreation Complex.

"It's part of the community's legacy, and we want to retain that history," Hutchens said.

Bujalski said if the contract and funding agreements stay on schedule, renovations could break ground next year. The current contract between the city and the team expires in December but was given a two-year extension in April. The new agreement would go into effect when the renovations are completed.

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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