Following a recent news report, a previous study on a proposed enhancement to the Toronto Blue Jays spring training facilities has come under scrutiny.
Last year, the Blue Jays and the City of Dunedin split the cost of a report that would study a proposal to keep the Blue Jays’ spring training operations in Dunedin. The plan called for an $81 million project to renovate Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the off-site Englebert Complex. Of that cost, about $65 million would come from public funding sources, with the proposed figure including funds from the city, Pinellas County, and the state.
The study paid for by Dunedin and the Blue Jays was conducted by Dr. Mark Bonn, a professor at Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality and the head of Bonn Marketing Inc. WTSP TV has now raised several issues with that study, including the fact that Bonn is not an economist by trade and his claims that spring training generates $70.6 million in annual economic impact for Pinellas County:
Public records obtained by 10Investigates revealed Bonn was encouraging his clients to use inflated numbers to make their case for taxpayer subsidies stronger.
Emails sent by the Blue Jays revealed apparent frustrations at time with their consultant, including a suggestion on Dec. 17, 2016 that Bonn use more realistic numbers in one of his calculations.
Bonn responded, “This is your call, but as your consultant, I do not recommend going down this path, as it generates only a negative outcome and provides a good argument to defeat your proposal.”
Emails also indicate that Bonn was concerned with preserving robust estimates and he suggested removing the methodology from his report to reduce the number of questions county leaders might ask.
Several economists interviewed by WTSP questioned Bonn’s methods, though Bonn has pushed back, stating that some of his remarks were taken out of context. More from The Toronto Star:
“I do not recommend going down this path,” he wrote. “It generates only a negative outcome and provides a good argument to defeat your proposal.”
Bonn says that passage was pulled from a series of several hundred emails sent over several months, and WTSP quoted the exchange out of context. He says the figures in question were part of a draft report that was never meant to be published.
“We go through hundreds of pages of drafts,” Bonn said. “You don’t hold hold somebody to anything (written in) a draft.”
The news comes at a point where local officials are to begin taking a closer look at the proposal. The Pinellas County Commissioners are expected to discuss it on April 25. When contacted by the Star, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said that the team will not comment on the situation until after the commissioners meeting.