Despite shifting the location of a proposed Orlando ballpark for a New York Yankees farm team closer to a convention center, Armando Gutierrez Jr. still faces a huge challenge in persuading Orange County officials to give up a prime parcel of land for a relatively low price.
The original proposal had the ballpark located on 30 acres of county land next to the BeachLine Expressway and I-4, but a new site is now in play: 12 acres next to the Orange County Convention Center on International Drive, also owned by the county. In exchange for the rights to build a $47-million, 5,000-seat ballpark on the county land, Gutierrez is offering $.75 for every ticket sold to a Yankees game for the next 65 years, projected to be $183,750 annually to the county based on an average attendance of 3,500 tickets sold per game. In addition to the ballpark, Gutierrez would build a Yankees museum (where the attendance is projected as 325,000 annually) as well as other development (though it’s hard to see how much can be developed on 12 acres of land with parking as well).
Of course, this will never happen. Let’s be realistic: no Florida State League has ever drawn 3,500 paid fans a game, and given the new ballpark location, we can’t see it happening in Orlando. (Both the Clearwater Threshers and the Charlotte Stone Crabs average over 2,700 fans per game, but that’s announced attendance, not actual paid attendance.) Getting around I-4, the BeachLine and International Drive at rush-hour is a dicey proposition; locals avoid that area like the plague on a good day. The potential owners say they’re get around that by marketing to tourists attending events at the convention center, but every team that’s anticipated tourist attendance has failed, because there’s simply not enough tourists who show up to games. (The Orlando Rays didn’t set the world on fire playing at Champion Stadium on the Disney World grounds.) We can’t see the Orlando Yankees bucking that trend, especially in Orlando, where there’s a plethora of attractions (Disney World, Universal Studios, Wet ‘N ‘Wild) within a very short drive of the ballpark. Gutierrez and crew say the large number of Yankees fans in Orlando are sure to show up to Class A games, but there are probably more Yankees fans in Tampa, thanks to the team’s spring-training locale — and they’re not showing up for Tampa Yankees games, either.
We’ll give Gutierrez and crew credit: they’re thinking big, and we have no doubt they really do believe they’ll buck trends and conventional wisdom in creating a destination ballpark in Orlando. The whole issue comes down to risk versus reward. For the county, they’d be tying up some pretty valuable land for the next 65 years with potentially very little payback represents a lot of risk. And spending $47 million on a Class A ballpark certainly is a huge risk for Gutierrez as well. We’re of the thought that Orlando could be a very good market for Class A baseball, but the ideal ballpark location represents a huge challenge for all.
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