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Money lures Cleveland to Homestead

Published Oct. 13, 2005

The Cleveland Indians' decision to move the team's spring training site to Homestead instead of Citrus County came down to one issue: money. The Indians were unhappy with Citrus County's decision not to spend property taxes on spring training and the lack of a 5,000-ticket sales guarantee from the private sector, said Rick Horrow, a Miami attorney who represents the Indians.

On Saturday, the Homestead City Commission unanimously approved a memorandum agreeing to be host to the Indians for spring training in 1993 and 1994, Horrow said.

The team could come in 1992, depending on its commitments to Tucson, Ariz., where the Indians now train, he said.

The Homestead vote capped two weeks of intense negotiations that began after talks with Citrus County stalled in April, Horrow said.

The Indian's four-month exclusive negotiating period with the county expired on April 9.

"It became apparent to the Indians during ongoing negotiations that Citrus County lacked the totality of resources necessary to commit to the operation and maintenance of a spring training facility," Horrow said.

Citrus County baseball booster Alex Griffin took issue with Horrow's statements.

He said the Indians knew going into negotiations that Citrus County was not willing to use property taxes.

The county answered the Indians' concerns about operation and maintenance costs with a proposed ticket surcharge, Griffin said.

Other spring training facilities use such surcharges to cover those costs, he said.

On the ticket guarantee, Griffin said local chambers of commerce, builders, realtors and other businesses had pledged to sell tickets, promote spring training and do whatever is necessary to bring people to the games.

An attendance guarantee is necessary in a small community such as Citrus County, Horrow said.

It became apparent that a 5,000-ticket guarantee from the private sector was not possible, he said.

"In our conversations with Mr. Horrow, that's not the way it was proposed to us," Griffin said.

"There was some leeway there and we gave them the best proposal possible. No where in the state of Florida do communities guarantee tickets to spring training games."

Horrow wouldn't disclose the terms in Homestead's memorandum with the Indians.

The two parties agreed to an exclusive negotiating period to finish the agreement by Aug. 15, he said.

The memorandum is more formal than the letter of intent the Indians signed with Citrus County last year, beginning their negotiating period.

"It has very specific finalized business terms that both sides have agreed to," Horrow said.

In part, that's because Homestead has a completed state-of-the-art spring training complex, he said.

The city began building the stadium, which cost $15-million to $20-million, in 1988 in hopes of attracting a spring training team.

Horrow and Griffin disputed suggestions by county commissioner Gary Bartell that the failure of the Citrus deal was related to failed real estate deals between Indians owner Dick Jacob and the Tamposi family, which played a major behind-the-scenes role in the Citrus baseball effort.

"Their real estate deal (for land around the proposed stadium site in Hernando) fell apart," Bartell said Friday. "That was the hinge to start with."

Griffin, who works for the Tamposi family, labeled Bartell's comments "pure speculation."

"I think it's picking at straws," he said. "I think somebody's trying to find a fault."

Griffin said he wouldn't comment on deals between Tamposi and Jacob if he knew about them, but said, "If there was one out there, it was complete."

By noon Friday, Griffin said he still had not heard any official word from the Indians.

He was upset the Indians hadn't informed him.The first he learned of Homestead was a call from a Cleveland newspaper reporter on Friday afternoon seeking confirmation of the rumor.

Citrus County's baseball package remains in place, Griffin said, and the county should look among the other teams that now train in Arizona or the planned expansion teams.

A key part of the package, which could provide the county with up to $500,000 annually in state funds for the stadium, can only be used for a team that does not train in Florida now.

"We have a very good financial package," Griffin said.

"Our package is sound. It would behoove us since we've come so far to test the waters elsewhere."