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Three counties vie to be spring home of Yankees

Published Oct. 13, 2005

The New York Yankees say they are prepared to move their training headquarters and a Class AA team and await proposals for multimillion-dollar facilities in Hillsborough, Pasco and Marion counties. The Yankees say they intend to honor their spring training lease in Fort Lauderdale, which runs through 1993 with a two-year option, but eventually want to combine their spring facility with a minor-league headquarters. Yankees minor-leaguers currently train in Tampa.

"We have nothing against Fort Lauderdale, but we would like to consolidate, and there doesn't appear to be enough room for us there," Yankees vice president Joe Molloy said. "I couldn't tell you which of the three areas looks best right now, but we should have a decision within 90 days about what area to pursue."

The Yankees seek a 100-acre complex with an 8,000-seat stadium for the big-league team in the spring and for their Class AA franchise _ now in Albany _ during the summer. The project also would have seven practice fields and a clubhouse that could accommodate the entire organization in the spring.

The cities or counties involved would be responsible for the cost, which is expected to be between $12-million and $17-million, according to Molloy.

"That's the standard today," Molloy said. "The Twins were given a $17-million facility, and Cleveland just went into a $17-million place. We could probably run less than that."

Officials from all three of the competing counties say they are trying to put together a package that would meet the team's needs.

Pasco County commissioners have indicated a willingness to use a significant portion of the tourist tax to finance a spring training complex, but that might not be enough to cover the total cost.

Another possibility is a shared revenue package, with the Yankees covering parking and concession profits, county attorney Ben Harrill said.

Pasco officials also are working with land developer Joe Smith, who tried to put together a multi-sports complex in Hillsborough County last year, for possible solutions. Pasco officials are looking at land near Interstate 75 and state roads 52 and 54 as possible sites, Harrill said.

Tampa Sports Authority officials have been talking about spring training options with the Yankees for years, but the effort has intensified in the past month, TSA executive director Joe Zalupski said.

The TSA has not completed its proposal, and Zalupski said possible sites still are being discussed. There would not be room at the current minor-league complex, which is just south of Tampa Stadium, Zalupski said.

The Yankees would require a new minor-league facility if they moved spring operations to Marion County or Pasco County. Molloy said the team would be willing to stay at its current minor-league headquarters if a spring facility were built in Hillsborough.

"Everybody that is involved is working to the limit to find a way to make things work," Zalupski said. "We're turning over every stone and looking to accomplish this without making it an untenable situation for anyone."

In Ocala, where Yankees owner George Steinbrenner owns a hotel and a horse farm, government officials seek a private donation of land for the facility, according to Brett Wattles, executive vice president of the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Council.

Funds for construction can be raised if a tourist bed tax is approved by voters, Wattles said. Marion County voters narrowly turned down a bed tax last year, when an unidentified team was considering a relocation.