Batting cages with floor scales that track a player’s weight distribution through an entire swing. Walk-in pools for rehabilitation. A facility that could make Clearwater a year-round home for the Philadelphia Phillies instead of just a spring training base.
All for a potential cost of $300 million.
The Phillies organization is developing plans to turn the city-owned BayCare Ballpark and Carpenter Training Complex next to U.S. 19 into a world-class facility with the latest in player development technology, according to three local government officials briefed by team leadership in Philadelphia last month.
“The Phillies have done a really terrific job of figuring out what they need to have the world’s best minor league operation, and not just in baseball, but I think in sports generally,” City Manager Jon Jennings said.
Phillies principal owner John Middleton and president of baseball operations David Dombrowski gave a presentation on the plan to Jennings, Mayor Frank Hibbard and Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton during the team’s annual reception weekend for Clearwater officials Sept. 9 and 10.
Hibbard confirmed the $300 million estimate but warned that the proposal had not yet gone through a process known as value engineering to decrease costs.
None of the three officials could confirm when the Phillies will present their plan publicly, how much the team would pay or how much money the city, county and state would be asked to contribute. The largest share of public funds would likely come from the county’s bed tax, which city officials say they plan to request.
“They really are shooting for probably the best training facility for any sport — college or professional,” Hibbard said.
John Timberlake, Phillies director of Florida Operations, did not answer an email question about the $300 million estimate. However, he said the Phillies ownership “has considered the potential of building a state-of-the art training facility that would possibly also include major improvements to Carpenter Complex as well as BayCare Ballpark.”
“There have been several iterations of these proposed concepts over the past couple of years in an ongoing effort to meet the needs of the organization in Florida, both now, and for many years to come,” Timberlake said. “To say that we have anything more than plans that are conceptual in nature would be an overstatement.”
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Council members David Allbritton, Mark Bunker and Lina Teixeira also traveled to Philadelphia for the annual reception last month, where they attended two games and dinners with team officials. However, the mayor is the only council member who received the redevelopment presentation.
Council member Kathleen Beckman did not go on the trip but said she was briefed later by Jennings, who described the proposal to her as a $300 million world-class facility. Beckman said she has asked to receive the same presentation given to the mayor.
The Phillies have held spring training in Clearwater since 1947, and city officials often tout the economic and cultural importance of the relationship. But attaining public dollars to redevelop the stadium built in 2004 has not been easy.
In January 2019, Clearwater and the Phillies presented the Pinellas County Commission with plans for a $79.7 million renovation to the stadium and training complex. Commissioners balked at their request for $40 million from the Pinellas bed tax, a 6% levy on overnight accommodations.
That request came nine months after the county had allocated $41.7 million of bed tax money toward the then-$81 million renovation of the Toronto Blue Jays’ stadium and spring training facilities in Dunedin. The project later grew to $108 million, with the team covering overruns, as it also designed a facility focused on player development.
When the Phillies submit their new redevelopment proposal to the City Council, it will be part of a renewal of the team’s contract that expires at the end of 2023. The 2019 application proposed a 20-year renewal.
In his email, Timberlake, the Phillies Florida director, said, “There are many, including us, who would like to see that extend to 100 years or more.”
Burton, the county administrator, said this year was the first time he attended a reception in Philadelphia, and he made the trip at Hibbard’s request.
“I don’t go on these types of trips, I don’t like people lobbying me, but I thought this was important,” Burton said. “I also learned a lot about player development.”
Hibbard said the equipment and programs imagined for Clearwater are so advanced that “Clearwater will become the only place in the entire Phillies organization where a player is rehabbed.”
Hibbard said the Phillies are seeking to relocate departments to Clearwater year-round, including information technology. The plan also includes building a dormitory for players, many of whom are teenagers from Latin America who are now housed in local hotels.
Although he could not provide an amount that Clearwater and the Phillies will request from the county, Hibbard said he will not be bashful to make the ask. The request would likely compete with one from St. Petersburg for bed tax money to redevelop Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay Rays.
So far this year, Clearwater brought in 35% of all bed taxes collected in Pinellas County, a lion’s share driven by the tourism boom on Clearwater Beach.
“Clearwater is the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to creating bed tax, it isn’t even close,” Hibbard said. “So I don’t think it is unreasonable for us to ask for bed tax money for this purpose.”