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Winter Park moves forward with new downtown Manatees ballpark

Brevard County ManateesThe Winter Park (Fl.) City Commission voted to move forward with a new downtown Brevard County Manatees (High Class A; Florida State League) ballpark.

The vote was 4-1.

The proposal calls for tearing down Alfond Stadium at Harper-Shepherd Field, owned by Rollins College and home to the Tars as well as the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs (summer collegiate; Florida Collegiate Summer League), replaced by what’s being pitched as a new $33-million project, due for a 2016 opening, as well as a parking garage.

The financials are still a work in a progress. We say the ballpark is billed as a $33-million project, but that’s not the true cost in terms of cash: over $12.25 million of that cost is attributed to the land costs, but the land is owned already by Rollins College, which is contributing the land and $4.1 million to the project. The ballpark itself will cost only around $15 million, with the rest of the project cost earmarked to a new parking ramp. The Manatees are paying $2 million as part of a 20-year lease and will retain management rights to the ballpark as well as share in parking-ramp revenues for team events. The city would bond $6 million of the project via its Community Redevelopment Agency. Another $9 million would basically come from the state in the form of a new market tax credit, but this chunk is a variable: the city must apply to the state for this money under a new system passed last month by the Florida Legislature, which overhauled how cities and pro teams can apply for state sales-tax rebates.

Some residents have already opposed the project, saying it would bring more traffic to an already bustling part of the upscale suburb. That’s true: It’s located in downtown Winter Park, on Orange Avenue and just off Fairbanks Avenue. These two streets are among the busiest in Winter Park, which means great visibility but it could also mean huge challenges for folks making their way for a ballgame. There are plenty of bars and restaurants within walking distance, so you’d be placing the ballpark in what’s already a busy commercial area (though it would also be on the edge of a residential area, full of folks who may not be thrilled with a ballpark in the area). But because of zoning issues, it was identified by consultant Mike Thiessen as the best place for a new ballpark.

The move would also bring professional baseball back to Orlando. Depending on how you account for Daytona Beach (it’s technically part of the Orlando MSA and TV market), Orlando is a largest MSA in the United States without professional baseball. After the presumed move of the Manatees, that distinction falls to Tucson.

This is by no means a final vote, but with four votes to move forward, there’s a solid core of support on the city commission. A June 10 vote is required to approve the Community Redevelopment Agency extension (basically, the city is keeping the CRA alive instead of sunsetting it for the purpose of bonding the ballpark), with a final vote on the project sometime this summer.

RELATED STORIES: Winter Park close to new Manatees ballpark deal; Alfond Stadium back in Manatees ballpark mix; Winter Park moves forward with ballpark feasibility plan; New Manatees ballpark pitched for Winter Park — again; New Winter Park ballpark plan scrapped — for now; Developer pitches new Winter Park ballpark; Brevard County Manatees, Rollins College discussing new ballpark; Pro baseball an endangered species in Viera; Nats go public with desire for new spring-training facility


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