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What went wrong with Ocala’s ballpark plan?

Proposed Ocala ballpark

Ocala (Fl.) officials performed a postmortem on its proposal for a new Tampa Yankees (High Class A; Florida State League) ballpark and figured out why it failed: Not every major stakeholder was committed.

The Ocala City Council discussed the project at recent strategic planning meetings. The proposal was pretty clear: proceeds from a half-cent sales-tax hike would be used for a development that would include a new T-Yankees ballpark. But the city can’t implement a local sales tax and needed the Marion County Commission to implement the sales tax. And that’s where the problem was: Marion County officials were not part of the process from the very beginning and were not committed to the new ballpark and associated development. The unique politics of Marion County didn’t help — besides Ocala, the major population is a part of the conservative Villages, where the snowbirds weren’t thrilled with the idea of paying for a summertime ballpark — and at the end of the day Marion County blew the proposed ballpark funding out of the water.

The ballpark would cost $38 million; the entire development, including land acquisition, would cost $60 million. It would include 30 acres of land available to the Yankees for additional development. There are strong ties between the Steinbrenner family and Ocala: the family owns land in the area and runs a horse-breeding operation.

There is a lesson to be learned here: when working on any large development, including a ballpark, bringing in every major stakeholder early in the process is essential. Selling the ballpark funding to what should have been assumed to be a skeptical public was a battle to begin with, and not including the body actually responsible for the taxation was, in retrospect, a fatal error.

RELATED STORIES: Yankees suspend efforts on new ballpark; County vote on new Yankees ballpark delayed; Marion County to take up Yankee ballpark funding Tuesday; Next step for new Ocala ballpark: sales-tax approval; Tampa Yankees on verge of move to Ocala; Ocala, Tampa Yankees talking new ballpark


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