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Yankees will stay in Tampa through 2046 if taxpayers chip in $26 million to renovate Steinbrenner Field

The New York Yankees plan to improve outfield views and concourses, revamp entry ways and add shade for fans at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the team’s spring training home.
The New York Yankees plan to improve outfield views and concourses, revamp entry ways and add shade for fans at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the team’s spring training home.
Published Apr. 12, 2016

TAMPA — George M. Steinbrenner Field, the New York Yankees' spring training facility since 1996, is poised for a $40 million makeover.

The Yankees and Tampa Sports Authority on Monday announced plans to renovate the publicly owned stadium with improved outfield views and concourses, revamped entry ways and more shade to protect patrons from the Florida sun. While the team will pay one-third of the costs, or about $13 million, taxpayers will pick up the rest.

In exchange, the Yankees agreed to extend their lease of Steinbrenner Field by 21 years, a commitment that means the Bronx Bombers will continue to call Tampa their spring home for another three decades.

The deal also includes $4.1 million in improvements to the Yankees Spring Training Complex on Himes Avenue, south of the stadium's N Dale Mabry Highway digs.

"The Steinbrenner family is extremely proud to have called Tampa Bay home for decades, and extending the New York Yankees' agreement with the community through 2046 is very important to us," Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. "We are excited to see these improvements to Steinbrenner Field, all of which will significantly improve the fan experience."

The agreement faces a series of votes before it's finalized, starting with the TSA board of directors on April 19. From there, four other government panels will weigh in: the Hillsborough County Commission, the Tampa City Council, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority — which owns the Himes Avenue property — and the Hillsborough Community College board of directors, which owns parking lots used by the stadium.

Construction will start immediately after approval with a goal of completing the project by spring training next year.

The deal also is contingent on Florida officials approving the use of $13 million from the state's Spring Training Retention Program funds. The remaining $13 million will be paid by Hillsborough County through the Tourist Development tax collected on hotel night stays.

It's the second major renovation deal the TSA has announced in recent months. Last year, the authority and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers agreed to terms on an $86 million renovation of Raymond James Stadium.

But in that situation, the TSA was contractually obligated to pay for $26 million in stadium maintenance and upgrades, a point elected officials in Tampa and Hillsborough County hammered repeatedly in the run up to the vote on the renovation deal.

Under the existing agreement with the Yankees, the New York ball club must pay for "reasonably necessary capital improvements."

So why would the TSA agree to use tourism tax dollars to help renovate Steinbrenner Field?

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Because keeping the Yankees here for the next 30 years is worth it, said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. The team routinely sells out the 10,000-seat Steinbrenner Field and brings to the area Yankees fans from across the country, he said.

The Yankees will also pay $11.4 million to the TSA over the life of the lease, though after 2035, the payment drops from about $500,000 a year to $186,000.

"We own the facility and it's in our best interest to maintain a state-of-the-art facility to be competitive," said Hagan, the county representative on the TSA board. "When you consider the revenue and lease payments and economic impact, it's a very strong return on investment."

Hagan expected the deal would pass all the hurdles. Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, though, said he will give it a tough look.

"I'm always skeptical about any public funding going to any sports venue," said Miranda, who voted against the Bucs renovation deal. "Always."

When it opened in 1996 as Legends Field, baseball fans and insiders said the stadium set a new standard for spring training facilities. It was renamed George M. Steinbrenner Field in 2008 after the Yankees owner, who died in 2010.

The stadium also is home to the Yankees' Single A minor league affiliate, the Tampa Yankees. In recent years, the major league club has looked for a new home for that squad but those efforts fell through.

If the Yankees back out of the agreement at any time, they would have to pay the TSA $500,000 annually until 2046 as well as any balance on the bond payments.

"The New York Yankees have been great partners in our community for decades," TSA president and CEO Eric Hart said in a statement, "and having these improvements and commitment through 2046 will be a major economic benefit for our area."

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.


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