A developer is pitching Rollins College and the Brevard County Manatees (High Class A; Florida State League) on a new privately financed ballpark in Winter Park as part of a larger development.
It's no secret the Manatees have laid the paperwork and groundwork for a move to the greater Orlando area. And Winter Park is a very desirable part of the greater Orlando area: it's far from the hustle and bustle of theme parks, with a stable local population that doesn't scream retiree. By our reckoning, Orlando is now the largest market lacking Minor League Baseball, but it's an odd and challenging market in terms of sprawl, demographics and potential sponsorship sources.
The plan from developer Dan Bellows calls for a new $12-million ballpark to house both the Rollins baseball program and the Manatees, replacing Alford Stadium at Harper-Shepherd Field for the Tars and Space Coast Stadium for the Manatees. Rollins officials say they're committed to the project, and Bellows says he's got an MiLB team in talks. The new ballpark would seat between 2,500 and 3,000, with a berm holding another 1,500. Private donations from Rollins College would provide part of the funding plan, and there are plenty of distinguished baseball-associated alumni from Rollings College: Ryan Hanigan, former Twin John Castino, and former Reds/Nationals GM Jim Bowden.
It's not the first time in the last year Rollins College has made a run at a new ballpark; the Manatees ownership was initially approached as an investor for a new ballpark. The future of Space Coast Stadium is in some doubt, but that's probably not a major factor in Manatees ownership seeking a move to Orlando.
The plan is not written in stone: there's also talk that Alford Stadium at Harper-Shepherd Field could be renovated if this deal falls through. The Tars play in the very competitive Sunshine State Conference, perhaps the most underrated college baseball conference in the NCAA outside of scouting circles.
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