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Pirates' Bradenton spring training facility gets overhaul

Most of the time, life at the Pittsburgh Pirates' spring training facility is marked by baseballs and bats, uniforms and gloves, as aspiring Hall of Famers honing their games dream of playing in the World Series.

But life at Pirate City is marked by bulldozers and mud these days, as destruction and construction send workers scrambling to complete a facility upgrade at a cost of more than $5-million.

The face lift is scheduled to be completed before spring training begins Feb. 18.

"We're right on target," said Ron Allen, president of NDC Construction Co., the firm handling the renovation. "We've been fortunate that the weather's been good. It's been a great project so far."

Bradenton officials and the Pirates agreed that Pirate City had become dilapidated. What they did not agree on, at first, was who should pay for the repairs.

The Pirates said last January that the city owed about $5.2-million for renovations under the team's lease, which runs through 2012. City leaders balked.

But Bradenton in March agreed to spend $3.5-million to help renovate Pirate City after reaching a compromise with Pirates' management. The Pirates agreed to pay for about $1.5-million worth of the renovations, and the facility remains under the city's ownership.

Work started last month, and Allen said that _ except for a new pitching and hitting facility that will be finished in April _ all the repairs and additions will be completed by opening day of spring training.

From the road, motorists will see that the circular drive in front of the 27th Street E complex is gone. A straightened parking lot will await visitors, who will first see the renovated dorm and reception area as they enter.

The players' dormitory, which had been damaged by water, is receiving a face lift with new windows, doors and air conditioning units. The 80-room dormitory also will undergo renovations to attached office and conference spaces for management and staff.

The players' clubhouse had been buckling as it slowly sank into the ground.

"It (Pirate City's location) was the city of Bradenton's landfill back in the '50s," Allen said. "Because there is trash under there, the land settled at different rates."

To fix it, a work crew demolished the old building and sunk 225 pilings into the ground, then covered them with an 8-inch concrete slab for the new, 20,000-square-foot clubhouse. It will contain locker rooms, a training facility, a weight room and storage for the players' equipment.

A 14,500-square-foot hitting facility _ a metal building on the south side _ is slated for completion by April 15. It will feature six pitching machines in six hitting stalls, and the floor will be covered with Astroturf.

Allen said he was sure the Pirate City project would come in on deadline.

"I don't have many options," he said. "Two hundred baseball players are showing up in February."

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