Long-awaited updates to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball facilities in Dunedin will begin soon, coinciding with the team's spring training season. But construction won't affect the games this year or next, city leaders say.
The $81 million project includes major renovations at two sites about four miles apart near the city's downtown: a training center off Solon Avenue and at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium off Douglas Avenue, where the major-league team has played each spring since 1977. Detailed renderings released to the Tampa Bay Times this week show big upgrades to the decades-old existing facilities.
Developers will start work at the training center first, in February, holding off on renovating the stadium until spring games conclude in April. Both should be complete within a year, wrapping up just in time for the Canadian team’s 2020 spring season, said Dunedin deputy city manager Doug Hutchens.
"The timeline, of course, is fluid because we have to respond to the design process and the market," he said. "But we are aggressively pursuing it, and we are going to get it done as quickly as possible."
Shelby Nelson, director of Florida operations for the Blue Jays, could not be reached for comment Thursday. But Dunedin parks and recreation director Vince Gizzi said it meant a lot to the team that players won't be displaced for spring games.
"They wanted to stay in their stadium," he said. "It's important not just for the Blue Jays, but for the fans and the economic impact that they bring to our city."
Meanwhile, renovation plans are pushing the franchise's minor-league team, the Dunedin Blue Jays, to find a temporary home for Florida State League games running from April to September, Hutchens said. On Thursday, the team's official online schedule listed the location of home games as "TBD," or to be determined.
The minor-league team is negotiating with the city of Clearwater to use Jack Russell Memorial Stadium near downtown, he said. It was the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies, before the team moved east to Spectrum Field near U.S. 19. in 2003, and now hosts high school and college players.
Renovations at the Dunedin training center, which planners are calling the Blue Jays Player Development Complex, will expand the team's existing training facilities north into the nearby Louis A. Vanech Recreation Complex, according to the city. Once complete, both the minor- and major-league teams will train there.
The updated complex will include multiple full-sized fields, batting tunnels, locker rooms, a weight room, offices and media rooms, a doctor's exam room, a kitchen and dining room, laundry facilities, a yoga studio, a classroom and more, according to an agreement between the Blue Jays and the city.
Many of the new amenities will be housed inside a new, two-story, 100,000-square-foot building, and the entrance to the complex will move from Solon Avenue to Garrison Road.
At the stadium, updates will increase capacity by a few thousand and add alternate seating on at least one "party deck" and a boardwalk linking each side of the stadium around the outfield, the agreement said. There will be a tiki bar, more food options and retail, as well as at least five private luxury suites. Plans call, too, for added restrooms, entrances and elevators, plus other standard updates, like new scoreboards and technology.
City leaders in Dunedin will meet with residents living nearby the training site on Jan. 16, to answer questions about how construction could affect the neighborhood. There will be a similar meeting ahead of construction at the stadium though a date has not been set yet, Hutchens said.
So far, the city has announced that Happy Tails Dog Park, which opened at Vanech Recreation Complex in 2003, will permanently close as construction begins. Officials also discontinued the city's adult softball league, which held games nearby, to make way for the Blue Jays, according to its website.
Parents of students at Garrison-Jones Elementary School recently learned the drop-off/pick-up area nearby the training site will move, and a public playground nearby will soon be relocated to the community center about a mile away.
Gizzi, the parks director, said his office will continue to keep residents informed as the city's plans for the Blue Jays become reality. It's been a long time coming, after all.
"We have worked for five or six years on this," he said. "It's really hard to believe we are at this point, getting ready to break ground."
Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.
If you go
To answer questions about upcoming renovations at the Toronto Blue Jays training grounds in Dunedin, city officials, developers and team representatives will hold a community meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Dunedin Community Center, 1920 Pinehurst Road. For more information, contact Dunedin Parks and Recreation at 727-812-4531 or visit dunedingov.com.