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Dunedin, Jays okay new pact, construction

After more than a year of haggling over who would pay for the unexpectedly higher costs of the renovation the Toronto Blue Jays' spring training facility, the city and the team finally have a deal.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the City Commission voted 4-1 to accept the deal, which calls for the Jays to advance the city $250,000 in rent, loan the city another $250,000 and hand over naming rights to the stadium. The city, in turn, would put up $500,000, and the two sides would ask the state for a matching $1-million grant.

Mayor Tom Anderson was the only commissioner to vote against the measure.

The deadlock was broken by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, who negotiated the deal after City Attorney John Hubbard asked him to mediate the dispute. Until now, the team has rejected the city's overtures and threatened to leave town unless the city could raise from $1.5-million to $2-million in public money for the project.

"When the documents are signed, then I'll feel better," Latvala said of the commission's decision. "I certainly wish it was unanimous but respect the mayor and his position."

The team and the city originally agreed to $12-million in renovations, mostly with money from public sources _ but only after Latvala helped negotiate the agreement. But then the team said the package of improvements could not be done for less than $13.5-million.

Despite the disagreement, the city started construction at Dunedin Stadium in February and has spent as much as $5-million relocating Little League fields and erecting the superstructure for a new clubhouse.

In the new 15-year agreement, which begins in January 2003:

+ The city agrees to accept a $250,000 loan from the team at a rate of 5 percent a year for 15 years.

+ The Toronto Blue Jays agree to extend the current contract, which expires Jan. 1, 2002, for an additional year. This, city officials says, will allow the city to collect an extra $100,000 in parking, concessions and ticket revenue.

+ The team agrees to play an additional two games a year over the course of the 15-year agreement, which city leaders say translates into $250,000 in additional revenue to the city.

+ The team makes first- and fifth-year lease payments of $125,000 each now, to go toward the state match.

+ The city receives 100 percent of revenue collected from the sale of the right to name the stadium.

Commissioners agreed the new agreement is a good fit for the the city and prevents them from the unknown costs associated with a possible legal battle.

"If we go to court then we've already lost the team," said Commissioner Cecil Englebert. "I worry about what it is going to cost if we let them go away."

Anderson disagreed.

"I have been assured that we have a valid and enforceable contract," he said. "At this point it looks like the city is going to put up another $1-million, the state will put in another million and the Blue Jays will put in nothing _ people are telling us not to put more money into this project."

Blue Jays' director of Florida operations Ken Carson said he was excited about reaching the deal.

"This is the start of a second honeymoon," he said. "We are going to make this work, have a good time and get those fans in the stadium."

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