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Long-shot Orlando MLB ballpark plan unveiled

Veteran sports operator Pat Williams unveiled a proposal for a $1.7-billion Orlando MLB ballpark development backed by a huge government spend–a proposal that will never happen while the Tampa Bay Rays continue to exist.

Williams is a former MiLB front office worker, inspirational speaker and disciple of the late Bill Veeck. As GM of the Philadelphia 76ers, he was key to Orlando landing the NBA’s Magic. So he brings some credibility to the proposal.

Specifically, Williams is proposing a 45,000-capacity domed ballpark with a translucent roof, surrounded by retail, hotels, restaurants and office space, built on 35.5 acres of county land on International Drive near SeaWorld. (Fighting I-4 traffic to get to a ballpark will surely be a delight.)

He’s been using the Orlando Dreamers name while promoting the project–Dreamers is a reference to Walt Disney and his belief in making dreams come true–which would tap Orange County’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) funds for $975 million. (Even though the TDT has plenty of funding–the $360 million in 2022 collections was the most ever, it’s still a big ask to back 30-year bonds.) Potential team owners would be on the hook for at least $700 million in additional spending, though a billion is more likely number.

At this point, however, there’s really only one potential team owner: the Tampa Bay Rays.

Though Williams says he’d be open to working either with the Rays or an expansion group, the plan relies heavily on what happens with the Rays in Tampa Bay. A new Orlando MLB ballpark is a long shot, to say the least, based on the chats we’ve had with MLB insiders. The path to the new Orlando MLB ballpark is extremely narrow and would require the following to happen:

  • Talks between the Rays and both Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) and Hillsborough County (Tampa) would need to completely collapse, freeing the Rays to leave the Tampa Bay market and seek a new home, either in Orlando or some other desirable market–like Nashville. 
  • MLB expansion is inevitable, most likely in the east and west. Las Vegas and Nashville are the obvious lead contenders if an existing team doesn’t move there. But there’s no way Orlando lands an expansion team with Tampa Bay still in Major League Baseball, we’re told. 

Now, before everyone gets excited about a new Orlando MLB ballpark, keep in mind this is just a proposal with a slew of contingencies. First, there’s no funding yet, though the TDT task force will be presented with the plan on Friday and then spend the summer deliberating. Second, the plan is also contingent on a deep-pocketed ownership group committing to the project. And third, it is also contingent on a team moving to Orlando–and as we know, there is not an abundance of MLB teams looking to move outside the A’s and Rays–or MLB awarding an expansion team to Orlando.

So let’s leave the situation as it exists in real life: a dream. But sometimes dreams do come true.

Rendering courtesy Orlando Dreamers.

RELATED STORIES: Williams revives plan for new Orlando MLB ballpark, team; Magic Co-Founder Launching Orlando MLB Campaign

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