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Phillies, Jays get deals to stay put

It appears spring training baseball is here to stay.

Clearwater officials have agreed to build the Philadelphia Phillies a 7,000-seat spring training complex to replace aging Jack Russell Stadium.

The deal, which becomes binding when both sides finish and sign official documents, will keep the team in Clearwater for the next 20 years. But it didn't come without sacrifices.

Before Thursday night's vote, commissioners heard from residents who feared stadium construction would increase flooding, traffic and noise, which would, in turn, decrease their property values.

Other residents complained that too much taxpayer money _ more than $20-million when city, county and state dollars are added up _ was being channeled to a privately owned team.

Nevertheless, the city never was comfortable with the idea of losing a team that has called Clearwater home since 1947.

"If the majority of citizens didn't want the Phillies here, then this is not a good deal," said Commissioner Ed Hooper just before the commission's unanimous vote. "But I believe they want them here."

Meanwhile, after three months of negotiations, Dunedin and officials with the Toronto Blue Jays said they had a deal Friday _ at least in principle.

For years, the Blue Jays had threatened to move elsewhere because of flagging attendance. The team wanted a larger stadium to prop up its drooping bottom line and erase what it said were projected revenue losses of $250,000.

On Friday, the city tentatively agreed to pay to renovate Grant Field and Englebert Complex for the team, which has called Dunedin home since 1977.

To pull off the deal, which is set to be approved Monday, Dunedin would get $6-million from the state and $3-million from the county. Dunedin and the team have to work out an agreement on how to share the remaining $3-million in costs.

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