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  1. Clearwater

No funding yet for Phillies stadium renovation but Clearwater is already spending

MONICA HERNDON   |   Times Clearwater still doesn’t know for sure if the county or state will commit money for renovations to Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex, but the city is already committing millions to the project.
MONICA HERNDON | Times Clearwater still doesn’t know for sure if the county or state will commit money for renovations to Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex, but the city is already committing millions to the project.
Published Dec. 14, 2018

CLEARWATER — The amount of money the city would have to reimburse to the Philadelphia Phillies if a proposal to renovate Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex falls through is continuing to climb.

The city plans to hire a firm in January to design architectural plans for Spectrum Field, an estimated $2 million expense the Phillies would pay initially, according to Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar.

That is on top of about $2 million in design work the Phillies completed this year on plans for Carpenter Complex renovations.

If the city is unable to secure Pinellas County and state funding for the $79.7 million project, the Phillies have the option of walking away and requiring the city reimburse the team for all expenses "as of said termination date," according to an agreement the City Council approved in June.

The original agreement stated the Phillies could walk away from the project — and its extension to play in the city for another 20 years when its contract expires in 2023 — if the county and state funds are not committed by Dec. 31.

But as preparation for the county application has dragged on, the city and the Phillies have agreed verbally to extend that deadline. The written agreement that binds the city has not changed.

John Timberlake, director of Florida operations for the Phillies, said on Tuesday that the organization was willing to drop the Dec. 31 deadline since it is clear progress is being made to secure county and state funds.

"There is no urgency on our part for that Dec. 31 deadline," Timberlake said. "We are operating in good faith, we know the process is moving."

City Manager Bill Horne confirmed that regardless of not being held to the Dec. 31 deadline, the city would still be required to reimburse the Phillies for its expenses on the design if funding ultimately cannot be secured to build and the projected is terminated.

Dunbar said he expects to present the application for conceptual approval to the County Commission in January for $40 million in bed tax funding, a 6 percent sales tax on hotels and motels that pays for marketing and capital projects to enhance tourism.

He said it could be presented in February to the Tourist Development Council, which allocates funding from the bed tax. Dunbar estimates the city will submit its application for a $13.7 million state grant in April after "we really are very firm on where we're at with the county."

But Visit St. Pete/Clearwater Chief Operating Officer Tim Ramsberger said that timeline is not guaranteed.

The Tourist Development Council's cycle for accepting capital project applications for bed taxes closes Jan. 15. Because Clearwater's application involves a stadium rather than a museum or nonprofit, it is being submitted independently from the cycle, in accordance with county guidelines. But county officials still must first evaluate the total amount of funds being requested from all projects before moving forward on a timeline for any approvals.

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"It's undetermined at this point what the timeline would be until this is first presented to the (County Commission)," Ramsberger said. "After that, it will then follow a schedule that is to be determined."

Under the current agreement, the Phillies would contribute $10 million to the project and pay any additional cost overruns. The Phillies have been training in the city since 1946. The city has committed $16 million of its Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue, although there is currently only $14.7 million dedicated to athletic fields.

Horne said he is not concerned about moving forward on design work before county and state funding is secured. Although the term sheet sets the city up for having to repay about $4 million so far if it falls through, Horne said he is not worried it will come to that.

"I think we're all optimistic this will come together in the end," Horne said. "The uncertainty is certainly of concern, but we've not gotten any true signals indicating we're going to find ourselves in a worst case scenario."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.