DUNEDIN — The campaign to woo the Toronto Blue Jays to stay in Dunedin for spring training has quickly become a group effort.
The Dunedin City Commission on Thursday night voted 5-0 to immediately gather price quotes from professional negotiators, assemble a statewide group of stakeholders to offer input during negotiations, and research funding options.
To ensure the process moves along, the city will compile a list of critical target dates. Meanwhile, city officials will confer with the state and city of Clearwater on a study of the team's economic impact on Dunedin.
Meetings with Jays president Paul Beeston, who will visit the area this weekend, and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who chairs the Pinellas Tourist Development Council, are set for Sunday and April 3.
"With approximately 4 1/2 years remaining on our license agreement, in order to retain the Blue Jays in Dunedin, we need to use our time wisely," said parks and recreation director Vince Gizzi.
Plans hit fever pitch last week, after the Jays announced they would use the next year to scout more modern spring training facilities in other cities.
Beeston told the Toronto-based Globe and Mail that the nearly 4-mile distance between Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the Solon Avenue training complex in Dunedin is not ideal, while the article's author criticized the stadium's crowded restrooms and souvenir shop and its lack of parking.
Gizzi presented commissioners with a list of strategies to keep the Jays here. He said he has already gleaned ideas from visits to the state's three newest spring training facilities in Clearwater, Sarasota and Lee County. And City Manager Rob DiSpirito suggested that the city hire a consultant who specializes in negotiation.
"I think that's a very smart thing to do: to have a sports professional that can be the face of it," Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said, "and maybe take some of the emotion out, be able to tell us if what we're doing is in line with what the rest of the world is doing, if the expectations are in line with normal expectations."
Commissioners' other suggestions included gathering input from representatives with groups such as the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, regional chambers of commerce, county tourism groups, state and the city's own economic development department.
"With the possibility of a new stadium having to be built," Bujalski said, "... we're going to need to get money from the state and from the bed tax and from the county. Those folks should be on the committee advising us every step of the way so at the end they're getting a plan that they saw morph along the way and felt was done in a responsible manner."
DiSpirito publicly thanked Clearwater and Philadelphia Phillies officials, who have already vowed to help persuade the Jays to remain in Tampa Bay.
According to Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce president Bob Clifford, the Phillies generate $95 million annually.
That figure includes money spent on spring training, minor league games, hotels, restaurants, museums and more.
"We strongly support the retention of the Blue Jays in Dunedin because it's not necessarily just a town issue. It benefits the whole county, as well as the state of Florida," Clifford told the Tampa Bay Times. "There's tremendous opportunity for things unrelated to baseball."
He said his agency is already comparing notes with the Dunedin Chamber.
In other action …
• Commissioners unanimously supported Mayor Dave Eggers' suggestion that the city foot the $3,500 cost of a cemetery plot for Army Spc. Zack Shannon.
The 21-year-old Dunedin native was killed last week in a helicopter crash near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Upon his wishes, he will be buried at Dunedin Cemetery rather than Arlington National Cemetery.
An open house-style celebration of life is set for noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at VFW Post 2550, 360 Douglas Ave., and a motorcade carrying his body from MacDill Air Force Base to Curlew Hills Memory Gardens is set for Monday morning.
• The commission will consider support of a countywide ban on Internet sweepstakes cafes at its April 4 meeting.
The Pinellas County Commission has asked local cities to weigh in on the matter by drafting a resolution. Dunedin commissioners said they didn't have enough information Thursday night to take a formal stance on the gaming establishments' legality, but agree that whatever is decided should apply to the entire county.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.