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Dunedin: Blue Jays should value what they have in bay area

DUNEDIN — In formalizing their commitment to aggressively court the Toronto Blue Jays, city leaders also laid a few of their own bargaining chips on the table Thursday.

City commissioners unanimously passed a resolution affirming their desire to hire a professional sports negotiator, do an economic development study and gather help from a host of county and state stakeholders who also stand to lose a lot if the team ditches Dunedin as its spring training home.

But negotiations won't just focus on what the Jays do for the area. From tourist attractions like beaches, to nearby competitive teams to play, to Canadian snowbirds to fill the stands, the resolution says the Tampa Bay area has a lot to offer the team, too.

"I want to see and hear how much they want to stay," Mayor Dave Eggers said.

"I want major league baseball in Dunedin," he added. "This is an incredible opportunity for some team to make Dunedin their home. So I want to make sure we remind everybody that there's an awful lot of attractive features right here in Dunedin. … We're selling the area and all it has to offer on many planes."

Eggers said Thursday's resolution had already been in the works when the Jays last month announced that they would use the next year to scout opportunities for more modern spring training facilities in other cities.

Jays president Paul Beeston told the Toronto-based newspaper Globe and Mail that the nearly four-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.

City officials said schedule conflicts scrapped a planned meeting with Beeston while he was in town last weekend for the end of spring training.

Eggers, City Manager Rob DiSpirito and Parks and Recreation director Vince Gizzi met Wednesday with Ken Welch, who chairs both the Pinellas Tourist Development Council and Pinellas County Commission, and others to fill them in on the recent developments.

Welch said when it comes to the use of the county's hotel bed tax, the tourism council must prioritize requests for funding from aquariums, BMX facilities and other groups based on economic impact. However, he said the spring training issue in Dunedin, which already receives about $188,000 a year in county bed taxes for stadium improvements, is "important."

"Spring training has been in our community for a long time and the economic impact is proven," Welch said. "So we're open to discussing ways to continue that partnership."

Several entities — including the city of Clearwater, Philadelphia Phillies and Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce — have already vowed to assist Dunedin during upcoming negotiations with the team. The resolution the City Commission approved Thursday also urges Pinellas County commissioners, Gov. Rick Scott, state Sen. Jack Latvala and state Rep. Carl Zimmerman to help.

The city hasn't developed a specific plan for responding to the Jays' announcement. They still must complete Step 1: assessing the Jays' wants and needs.

"That's the most important thing that has to happen," said DiSpirito. "We have to know what they're thinking, what they want, what they expect and wish for. And then we'll have something to talk about with our sounding committee."

Both sides, Eggers said, will have to consider the economic recession and analyze the likely financial picture 25 years from now.

"It's not like it was 10 years ago. The funds just aren't there like they used to be," he said. But, "I'm cautiously optimistic. We've got 37 years of a wonderful relationship. … That's the part I'm going to build from."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Dunedin: Blue Jays should value what they have in bay area 04/05/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 8:00pm]
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