Baltimore wants a new spring-training ballpark; Sarasota officials want to renovate Ed Smith Stadium.
The Baltimore Orioles and Sarasota County have reached an impasse in negotiations for the team’s potential move to Sarasota — and the impasse is very serious, causing the Orioles to send Cal Ripken Jr. to the Gulf Coast city yesterday in an effort to sway some opinions.
The Orioles are proposing a $65-million makeover of the current Cincinnati Reds training complex and adjacent fields now controlled by Sarasota Youth Baseball. A new 7,500-seat ballpark would be built next to Ed Smith Stadium, with a Ripken Youth Baseball Academy nearby. Sarasota Youth Baseball would lose its six-field complex and share a smaller complex with the Ripken academy. Proceeds from the county hotel tax would fund the construction and renovations.
As we’ve been reporting for months now, the first choice of the Orioles has been a move to Sarasota, and the team certainly has been negotiating from that stance.
No one in Sarasota seems very enthused by the team’s proposal — including three of the five Sarasota County Commissioners, whose opinions matter the most. They counter with a more modest proposal to spend $33 million on a renovation of Ed Smith Stadium and the complex, similar to what Charlotte County did for the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte County Sports Complex. (Ironically, Ripken Baseball will be managing that ballpark and the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs, so they’re well aware of the pros and cons of that arrangement.) Renovating Ed Smith Stadium would give the Orioles the revenue streams they need and allow Sarasota Youth Baseball to play out the 43 years left on its lease for the six youth fields.
Indeed, it may be a hard sell for Ripken Baseball to cheerfully manage Charlotte County Sports Park and then argue a similar arrangement in Sarasota is wholly inadequate. Ed Smith Stadium will be 20 years old next year, and it’s not a terrible facility: an extreme makeover would do the trick, as it already contains money-generating features like suites, though the footprint is a little tight. And given the economy, getting Sarasota to commit $33 million to a renovated facility can be seen as a triumph.
Not that the team doesn’t have options. Vero Beach and Indian River County officials are pressing the team to commit to a move to Dodgertown by Dec. 15, as officials say they need to know the status of the team for future planning. Yes, it’s a broken record: this is at least the fourth deadline for the Orioles set by Indian River County, and the team has blithely ignored each one. Fort Myers is expected to present some sort of plan to have the Orioles move to City of Palms Park once (or, rather, if) the Boston Red Sox move to a new suburban complex. And officials with Phoenix-area municipalities continue to cast an eye on the Orioles as a possible tenant for new Arizona spring-training complexes.