Four months after it drenched the Tampa Bay area, Tropical Storm Debby is still soaking the city of Clearwater, right in its wallet. The city must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair flood damage and prevent future flooding at the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training complex off U.S. 19.
City leaders recently agreed to pay $393,000 for extensive repairs at Bright House Field, where there was so much flooding on June 28 that the baseball diamond looked like a swimming pool.
Clearwater also agreed to pay $235,000 to raise the foundation of a $2.9 million training building under construction next door at the Carpenter Complex, where the Phillies train.
The reason: If the large new building had been constructed as originally planned, another storm like Debby would have flooded it.
"We would have had water intrusion into the building. We'd be responsible for replacing the contents of our tenant, the Phillies," Clearwater Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar told the City Council.
Is this a good deal?
Conservative activist Joe Paige questions the growing cost of the Phillies' new training building, calling it a misuse of taxpayer money.
"When are we going to stop subsidizing these multimillion-dollar sports teams?" he said. "Instead of reducing the millage rate or giving it back to the taxpayers, now we're giving to it a professional sports team that pays their players in the millions and millions of dollars."
Despite the expense, Clearwater officials remain convinced that this is a sound investment. They point to the tens of millions of dollars that Phillies fans spend every year at local restaurants and hotels.
The team pays $200,000 a year to lease the city-owned Carpenter Complex. The Phillies will fund their share of the new building's cost by giving the city 60 cents of each spring training ticket through 2023 — an estimated $900,000 over the remaining 12 years of their contract with Clearwater.
Mayor George Cretekos and other city officials say that, in the unlikely event that the Phillies left Clearwater, the city would simply keep the infrastructure at the Bright House Field and Carpenter Complex properties and would use it to attract another baseball team.
"The building, the stadium, the minor-league clubhouse, all the fields, are city facilities and city assets," Dunbar told the council. "At the end of the day, if the Phillies left, we would own everything."
New training center
The new 21,000-square-foot center is alongside U.S. 19 north of Drew Street. When its tall concrete walls went up, the local Phillies office started getting calls from curious people asking, What is that?
The building will have six air-conditioned batting tunnels, a large gym for players, a video room, and offices for trainers and conditioning coaches. It's set to be finished by year's end.
On Friday, Joe Cynar and Todd Pope stood with other workers in a cavernous concrete space, the largest room in the building.
Batting tunnels to be installed there will be made of netting that can be retracted when necessary, creating space for players to do other things, said Pope, a project manager for Creative Contractors, which is building the structure.
"We'll never get rained out again," said Cynar, a Carpenter Complex manager for the Phillies.
The city had originally planned to build the new structure at an elevation of 23 feet — a foot higher than the 100-year flood plain in that location.
Officials found out that wasn't high enough when Tropical Storm Debby came through. The entire site ended up underwater because it's near Alligator Creek, which is prone to flood during heavy storms, Dunbar said. So the city spent $235,000 is to raise the building's foundation 2.5 feet.
Methane gas was also discovered at the site. The Carpenter Complex was built in the 1960s on 30 acres of old landfill. So the city is spending $115,000 more on a detection and mitigation system to control that.
"For us, this building is the last piece that completes the whole Carpenter Complex," said John Timberlake, the Phillies' director of Florida operations.
Debby's rains also did a number on Bright House Field, turning it into a giant bathtub. "We had about four 4 of water on our field, and 2 to 4 inches of water in all of the first-floor buildings here," Timberlake said.
The city is paying to replace carpeting, drywall, furniture and paint. It will seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.