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Plant City trying to sell stadium, softball complex

For sale: 6,700-seat stadium and adjacent softball fields. Sports lovers preferred but will entertain other offers.

After years of losing money, the city concedes it's now trying to lease or sell Plant City Stadium, the former spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds. The package deal includes the nearby Randy L. Larson Softball Four-Plex at 1500 S Park Road.

"My fervent wish is that something viable will go there that the citizens can embrace," City Manager Greg Horwedel said.

Officials had hoped to operate the 75-acre stadium and surrounding sports complex long after the Reds pulled out in 1997 and moved to Sarasota.

But so far revenues generated from the scores of softball and baseball tournaments, the Pig Jam barbecue festival and other events at the complex haven't been sufficient to cover nearly $400,000 in yearly maintenance costs.

On top of that, the city is paying debt still due from the stadium's construction in 1987. About $2.75 million is owed, or roughly $380,000 to $390,000 a year through Nov. 1, 2019, the city's finance director, Martin Wisgerhof, said.

The city posted information on its website last week to entice buyers and tenants. It's hoping to hear back by April 1 and bring a proposal to city commissioners in May or June.

Although officials said they hope to attract a sports-related company in order to maintain the complex for Plant City residents, they noted that all viable offers will be considered, including from condo developers.

"We would have to think long and hard about that, but we haven't put any restrictions on the use," Horwedel said.

So far, the takers have been few. Officials have talked for two years with sports management firm Big League Dreams of West Covina, Calif., about a long-term lease, but haven't struck a deal for operations and maintenance.

Also, Horwedel said a potential buyer has made inquiries, but he wouldn't identify the person.

Any deal reached would need to include a contingency for the International Softball Federation, which leases space at the complex.

During the last fiscal year, the city booked the complex for baseball and softball tournaments 46 of 52 weekends. It also hosted the annual Pig Jam barbecue, July 4th celebration and Our Lady of Guadalupe festival by St. Clement Catholic Church, which attracts thousands each December.

But fees generated from those and other uses haven't covered expenses. Increased rental fees have helped but officials concede the local market won't bear more fee hikes. As a result, the city has been forced to dip into its general operating fund to cover costs.

"Our fee structure is in line with other municipalities and counties, so we can't go much higher than that," recreation director Jack Holland said. "Our goal obviously is do what's in the best interests of the city."

Last year, commissioners directed the staff to look into lease and sale options. So far, officials aren't sure what the property is worth.

Gregg Ramsey, president of Tampa-based Freedom Sports, which runs adult softball tournaments, said he was surprised to hear Plant City was looking to sell or lease the complex.

He said he'd miss having tournaments there and in the stadium's absence would likely turn to facilities in Tampa, Lakeland, Bradenton and Sarasota. His last tournament at the complex occurred two weeks ago.

"That place is booked four weekends a month," he said. "It doesn't make sense this would happen. There's got to be another way."

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

Plant City trying to sell stadium, softball complex 02/14/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 9:35am]

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