DUNEDIN – City officials continue to talk with the Toronto Blue Jays in hopes of the team keeping Dunedin as its spring training home after the Jays’ lease expires in 2017.
Jays representatives called the city last week and said they would be sitting down with Dunedin officials next month, Mayor Dave Eggers said Jan. 29.
Eggers, speaking to the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce at its quarterly luncheon, said the city continues to have direct contact almost every two weeks with the president of the Blue Jays, Paul Beeston.
“I think that it will be fruitful. It’s only beginning at that point. We know that these are complicated and expensive deals. They are not easy to do,” he said.
Two years ago he felt 60 to 70 percent confident that the city would keep the Jays. That confidence level dropped to 20 percent when city officials found out a year ago that the Jays had serious negotiations for sites on the east coast.
“Things have changed. I think over the past year they have kind of looked around a little bit and maybe saw what other partners might look like. We’ve even started to envision now a little bit what other partners might look like. We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘You know I think we have got it pretty good,’” Eggers said.
Dunedin officials have given the Blue Jays room to negotiate with other teams, but at the same time, city officials are trying to be open for further discussion with the team, Eggers said.
With “the Jays’ blessing,” Eggers approached other teams and toured a team’s facilities last week. The team expressed some interest and has been back in touch with city officials.
City Manager Rob DiSpirito and Parks and Recreation Director Vince Gizzi also have traveled to several major league spring training complexes in recent months to gain site plan and operational options.
Eggers’ remarks that negotiations will continue next month drew applause from chamber members. He said he shared their frustration at the lack of progress being made.
A study estimated that the annual economic value to the region of the Jays is $80.3 million, as opposed to the 2009 impact of $71.1 million.
The city will be putting together a group that will discuss some ideas involving spring training. City officials also met a couple of people who might bring some additional expertise in negotiations if needed, Eggers said.
The Jays have been training in Dunedin for 37 years and baseball is “a big part of the city’s history. I think we are going to keep working hard to see that it stays,” Eggers said. “But there’s a lot of work to do.”
The Jays have been forthright, Eggers said, and are “very respectful of our interests of keeping Major League Baseball, primarily them, but we want Major League Baseball here.”
The Blue Jays’ contract with the city expires on Dec. 30, 2017. They have two additional five-year options remaining on their current contract, if the team chooses to use them.
Eggers and DiSpirito spoke to chamber members at the luncheon at Pensare Italian Bistro at 790 Highland Ave.