If the Toronto Blue Jays are to keep training in the Tampa Bay area, it will take a strong effort by Pinellas County to provide upgraded facilities -- and a few potential plans are emerging, even if the Jays don't bite.
The Toronto Blue Jays front office has been openly seeking a new spring-training home once their Florida Auto Exchange Stadium lease ends in 2017 and have been working with the Houston Astros on a plan for a new facility in Palm Beach Gardens. That plan received a boost when the Florida State Legislature began work on a plan to devote more money to spring training. Under the plan, two teams combining resources could receive up to $50 million from the state -- which would cover almost half the cost of a new two-team facility.
Now, that legislation doesn't cover just the situation in Palm Beach County: it could be accessible to any city or county meeting the right conditions. (The total pot will be $100 million, allocated over 37.5 years.) And, as described to us by county officials, Pinellas County is looking at several scenarios to keep the Blue Jays in greater Tampa Bay. Under consideration:
- An expansion of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. This is a very challenging proposition. The Blue Jays don't like training at the Mattick Complex and then busing over for games: a complex big enough for both the Major League and Minor League Baseball camps is on the team's wish list. Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is a land-locked facility with limited parking and seemingly no room for expansion. We can't see the city relocating the elementary school to the east, and city land to the west won't be enough.
- Renovate Al Lang Field. The historic spring-training site has been largely unused since the Tampa Bay Rays shifted spring training to Charlotte County. The issues there are the same as with Florida Auto Exchange Stadium: there's not enough land for a full training complex, a stated goal for Blue Jays officials.
- A totally new complex. With $30 million in potential funding from bed taxes, Pinellas County could have enough of a funding foundation to make a new complex work in conjunction with state and local funding. Depending on land costs, a new one-team complex should cost around $75 million, based on the cost of JetBlue Park. The issue: where a new complex would be located, which would depend on what local municipality would step up with money and potentially land. This plan could also work for a two-team complex (see below).
- Expanding the Carpenter Complex and Bright House Field to accommodate two teams. Right now there's room for expansion to the west of the spring-training site, especially at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex used currently for overflow parking. If the Phillies agree, this could end up being a perfect solution, both for spring-training games and for year-round training. Two GCL teams could easily share a complex, and although we've been directly told the status of the Dunedin Blue Jays (High Class A; Florida State League) is a total nonfactor in Blue Jays deliberations, putting two teams at Bright House Field would work a la Roger Dean Stadium.
On the one hand, this may be too little, too late; insiders tell us a move of the Blue Jays to Palm Beach Gardens is a done deal. On the other hand, the Blue Jays aren't necessarily the only target for Pinellas County: remember, the Washington Nationals are also in search of a new spring home. Anything under deliberations for the Blue Jays could easily be applied to the Nats.
It's not been formally announced that the Astros and Blue Jays are jointly seeking a new complex in Palm Beach Gardens, though we reported it at the beginning of this month.
RELATED STORIES: Florida approves $50 million in aid for new Astros, Blue Jays spring complex; Big night for Astros; big year ahead; Blue Jays: We're looking for new spring home; Crane: Triple-A ball could be coming to Houston area
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