Dunedin city officials expect to meet with Toronto Blue Jays executives in 30 to 60 days to discuss what the Jays’ specific needs are in terms of facilities. They currently train at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Douglas Avenue.
DUNEDIN – City officials continue to talk to the Toronto Blue Jays about the team’s needs for spring training, including the possibility of building a new stadium on 22 acres off Patricia Avenue.
The Jays’ contract with Dunedin expires Dec. 30, 2017, and city officials hope to get a commitment from the Jays for at least another 20 years.
In a memo City Parks and Recreation Director Vince Gizzi said city officials and Jays executives discussed expanding training facilities at a meeting March 24. After further discussion a suggestion came up that 375 Patricia Avenue, known as the former Neilson property, would make a better site to meet the needs of the Blue Jays.
The Nielson property, currently owned by Wells-Fargo, would have sufficient room to accommodate a new stadium as well as two practice fields, batting cages, clubhouse, offices, parking, etc.
“At that meeting it was understood and accepted by both parties that the training and stadium facilities would have to remain on separate sites,” Gizzi said at the commission’s meeting July 24. “Ultimately, the Blue Jays would prefer one location, but if this wasn’t possible, they would be willing to accept split facilities as long as one full field, additional batting cages and parking could be had.”
If the Patricia Avenue site were the selected location, the new facilities could be built while spring training continued at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium at 373 Douglas Ave. Additionally, city officials expect that renovations would need to be made at the Englebert Complex, 1700 Solon Ave, the memo said.
City officials called the negotiations productive. Mayor Dave Eggers, who has had telephone conversations with Blue Jays President and CEO Paul Beeston, said that there has been a good dialogue and close cooperation between the city and the Jays but challenges remain, such as financing and partnership issues for new facilities.
“We are talking about a 20- to 30 year commitment if we are able to get to that,” Eggers said. “And it just takes time to develop that thought process, not necessarily what we need today, but what are we going to need in 10 years or 20 years; it’s a long commitment.”
City officials expect to sit down with the Jays in 30 to 60 days, City Manager Rob DiSpirito said.
They are looking for a specific list of needs in terms of facilities and approximate costs.
“For the first time we will have I think a lot more information before us that will make options reasonable to discuss,” he said.
The Jays have done numerous spring training site visits in Arizona and Florida.
“We like the sense that we get from the team that they would like to stay, like to look at a number of different number of options with us and find a way to make it work – that the Toronto Blue Jays are here for many years to come,” DiSpirito said.
The Jays have been training in Dunedin for 37 years.
Gizzi’s memo mentioned several initiatives that staff has undertaken during negotiations with the Jays.
The city sponsored an economic impact study that showed an $80 million to the regional economy annually due to spring training and the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.
They also have worked with architects to develop facilities options and site analysis, and lobbied the state Legislature and Pinellas County government for capital matching funds, among other efforts.
County officials have said the Nielsen Media buildings had been demolished in 2012, and the land was ready for redevelopment. The site has been vacant since 2005 when Nielsen moved its operations to Oldsmar.
A developer bought the property in August 2005 with the intention of adding a mixed-use residential component to the existing Nielsen office buildings, according to a memo to the Dunedin City Commission from Greg Rice, the director of planning and development for the city. However, after the economic downturn hit in 2008, the project failed and the site went into foreclosure. The site then reverted back to the mortgage holder, Wells Fargo Bank, in August 2009.
Pinellas County Commissioners, sitting at the Countywide Planning Authority, approved a request from Dunedin April 1 for a land use amendment, moving forward redevelopment plans proposed for the site. The Dunedin City Commission followed up with a unanimous vote April 17 to change its land use and zoning to better fit its new vision.
The county’s future land use plan was amended on the 23.2 acres from commercial general to industrial limited, to planned redevelopment-mixed use. The amendment supports an accompanying “special area plan for 375 Patricia Ave.,” submitted by the city. There was no mention of a stadium in April.
Tentative millage rate
In other matters city commissioners, tentatively approved the current tax rate of 3.73 mills for the next fiscal year, equal to $3.73 for every $1,000 of appraised property value. The rate is the same as the current year.