Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Dunedin's romancing of Jays getting no traction so far

DUNEDIN — This city has flown a representative to Canada to chat up top baseball brass. It has doled out cash for an economic impact study of spring training baseball. It has sent an official to Florida's east coast to listen in on a meeting with residents there about a proposed new baseball stadium.

It has even paid for some preliminary sketches of new baseball facilities that could be built in Dunedin.

But none of that has persuaded the Toronto Blue Jays, Dunedin's longtime spring training team, to abandon pursuit of a new shared stadium with the Houston Astros in Palm Beach Gardens on the Atlantic coast.

Team president Paul Beeston has said the team will exhaust the east coast stadium option before any discussions about remaining at Dunedin's Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, the Jays' only spring training home since the team was created in 1977.

Still, Dunedin parks and recreation director Vince Gizzi, Mayor Dave Eggers and others continue to work behind the scenes in hopes of keeping the Jays.

"All we're trying to do," Gizzi said, "is get their attention, let them know we're interested."

Here's the latest:

• Gizzi flew Sept. 27 to Toronto, where he met for two hours with Beeston and presented an architect's conceptual drawings of new or renovated facilities for the Blue Jays.

The team's main frustration, Beeston has said, is the 3.5-mile distance between Dunedin's 5,509-seat, 12-acre stadium on Douglas Avenue and the 23-acre Englebert Complex on Solon Avenue where players train.

The city would need at least 50 to 60 acres to combine stadium and practice facilities, Gizzi said, adding that many new spring training stadium complexes now occupy 100 acres or more.

The city only briefly considered the 23-acre former Nielsen property on Patricia Avenue before determining it is too small.

However, the city has figured out that if locker rooms and showers (as well as offices and eating facilities) were added at the Englebert Complex, players wouldn't have to travel to the stadium to shower and dress. Only the stadium currently has shower facilities.

Beeston listened to the idea as Gizzi pitched it, but didn't respond, he said.

There isn't a cost estimate for that idea, which the city developed after reading news stories about the Blue Jays' flirting with Palm Beach Gardens and having brief phone conversations with Beeston. Beeston has yet to discuss with the city the team's needs and wants, which could perhaps include skyboxes, new stadium seating or other amenities.

"It was nothing more than looking at what might fit where and showing we're trying to put our best foot forward," said Gizzi. "We're hoping it may lead to further discussions with Mr. Beeston."

• On Wednesday, Gizzi drove several hours to a Doubletree Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens, where that city's officials met with residents interested in details about a new spring training facility proposed there.

The stadium and 12 practice fields are proposed for an 82-acre site between Central Boulevard and Interstate 95, near two elementary schools.

Astros owner Jim Crane reportedly told the crowd that the $100 million project would be family-friendly.

A line of 300 to 500 residents snaked outside the door, and Gizzi estimates more than half of them expressed worry about their children's safety as well as the prospect of expanding two roads to four lanes and relocating a city park to make way for the stadium.

"You could tell there were people who lived in that neighborhood who were very concerned about the location and how it would affect their neighborhood," he said.

Palm Beach Gardens, which has launched pbgfl.com/springbaseball to answer residents' questions, and Palm Beach County would have to secure financing and hold public hearings before the project is approved.

• If the Jays don't stay, Dunedin officials say they will start pursuing other teams. In addition to the $2,500 spent on the rough stadium sketches so far, the city expects to receive within two months the results of a $7,500 study examining the economic benefit of Major League baseball on the Dunedin area.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected]

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