The defeat of Ray Judah, a big supporter of spring training in Fort Myers, could impact the future of Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals spring training in Lee County.
Judah was running for reelection on the Lee County Board of Commissioners, but came in third in Tuesday’s Republican primary behind a candidate who strongly criticized Judah for county spending on a new spring complex for the Boston Red Sox and potential spending on renovations to Hammond Stadium and the Lee County Sports Complex, spring home of the Minnesota Twins. Their view: teams should help pay for improvements to spring training facilities.
The Twins and Lee County have a tentative deal for up to $45 million in updates to the complex, with $15 million coming from the state and whatever else is spent (the exact plan still needs to be determined) coming from tourism taxes. Judah has been among county commissioners dipping deeply into tourism taxes to pay for spring training — even diverting some beach restoration funds in the process — and that strong stance toward spring training led to his primary defeat.
Now commissioners must move forward knowing voters don’t approve of big bucks on spring training — or didn’t approve of Judah, anyway. While it may be too late to overhaul the Twins deal, it will certainly impact any efforts to bring the Washington Nationals into town. The Nats and Lee County have negotiated a move from Viera, but the Nats want to see a lot in terms of upgrades at the former spring home of the Sox, and there may not be enough money in county coffers to accommodate these requests. The effort to bring in the Nats was already in trouble, and this election result could be enough to end talks altogether.
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