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4 stadium sites may be used in pitch to Phillies

The city is considering building a new spring training stadium for the Philadelphia Phillies near the team's practice complex on Drew Street or at one of three downtown locations, including one that overlooks the harbor.

The sites downtown include the former City Hall annex property at Cleveland Street and Missouri Avenue, an area behind City Hall and the current location in the North Greenwood neighborhood.

Phillies officials have said they wanted to remain in Clearwater but say they eventually would need a new stadium because of the age of the team's longtime spring training home, Jack Russell Stadium. The team has five years left on its lease.

City Manager Mike Roberto said he had not spoken to the Phillies about the specific sites. He said he expected to have serious discussions with the Phillies when spring training starts next year and to have a contract signed by the spring of 1999.

Right now, the idea of building a new stadium is preliminary. The City Commission has not received an official request, and no money has been set aside.

John Timberlake, director of the Phillies' Florida operations, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Of the four possible locations, the most radical is to build a stadium in the area behind City Hall where the city owns public tennis courts and an employee parking lot.

Roberto said that idea corresponded with his vision of downtown in which he designated an area roughly from the water to East Avenue between Cleveland and Court streets as an entertainment district. He would like to bring other forms of entertainment, such as museums and movie theaters, there to encourage people visiting the beach to stop by.

Like the land behind City Hall, the city already owns 14 acres at Cleveland Street and Missouri Avenue, which was home to the City Hall annex until last year. City officials planned to sell the property to a developer, but there also had been talk about building a new main library there.

The third option is to tear down the Phillies' current home and build a new stadium or completely renovate the old one. Since it was built in 1955 for the Phillies, the 7,000-seat stadium has been renovated several times but still lacks many modern amenities.

Roberto said the Phillies would prefer to be near the Carpenter Complex on Drew Street near St. Petersburg Junior College or at least have the stadium easily accessible to their training facilities.

Timberlake said last month the Phillies were not requiring a new stadium be near the Carpenter Complex. But teams looking to move prefer to have one location that contains a stadium and training facilities.

Roberto said the city would probably not consider other sites in the city because no other ones would be large enough to hold a stadium. The city would need to find at least 10 acres just to house the stadium and then more land for parking, concession stands and other amenities.

_ Clearwater reporter Anita Kumar can be reached at 445-4160 by telephone or at kumarsptimes.com by e-mail.

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