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Dunedin moves forward with Jays negotiations
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DUNEDIN – For those spectators who feel city of Dunedin officials’ negotiations with the Toronto Blue Jays are going into extra innings, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

However, based on city commissioners’ discussions at a work session Sept. 18, they are getting close to finalizing a licensing agreement intended to allow the Blue Jays to train and play baseball in Dunedin for another 25 years.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski hopes to have a workshop in late October for commissioners to go over the proposed agreement that stems from Jays officials who said more than a year ago that they prefer to keep their spring training operations in Dunedin. Extensive improvements to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and training facilities are envisioned.

She also would like commissioners to possibly vote on the proposed agreement at their first meeting in November, after the Board of Finance, Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and other boards give their input on the agreement.

City officials note that many terms of the agreement from a year ago remain the same. The cost of the project remains at $81 million, with the funding sources designated as the city, $5.6 million; the state of Florida, $13.7 million and $61.7 million from Pinellas County and the Toronto Blue Jays.

As of Sept. 15, the city has not received the county’s contribution committed to the project. Consequently, the county’s and Blue Jays’ contributions are not final.

Deputy City Manager Doug Hutchens said he feels city officials are making progress with their negotiations with the Blue Jays though some outstanding issues exist, none of which can’t be overcome.

“We are certainly optimistic we can do that,” Hutchens said.

Finance Director Joe Ciurro said the city asked for $46 million from the county and expect the Jays and the county together to finance $61.7 million for the project. City officials are working on their state application but need to wrap up the license agreement, which is part of the application, before they submit it. They hope to have the state application submitted before the end of December.

As proposed, the Jays would play 15 major league games in Dunedin annually. City officials are finalizing negotiations over three fields, which they hope to be able to use for eight months of the year. A summary of agreement terms show that the Blue Jays would contribute $13 million to a capital replacement fund and the city would provide $500,000, $100,000 annually from years 6 through 10 of the agreement. The city would make $2 from every ticket for the capital fund.

Among the issues under negotiation are concessions and naming rights. Concerns also were raised about the loss of land for public use, including a dog park.

Commissioners by consensus agreed to move forward with negotiations, but they also expressed some concerns.

“I think what is going to be totally important is transparency, that everybody knows – proponents, opponents whatever – where we are on what issue, what monetary obligation. Everybody needs to have the facts, and that is going to be a key issue, transparency,” Commissioner Deborah Kynes said.

“Everybody should walk away from this deal feeling there is no winner or loser,” she said.

Commissioner Heather Gracy agreed with Kynes.

“I would like a win-win on this. I don’t know how we get it. Maybe everybody who walks away from the table hurts just a little bit,” she said. “Or feels it’s a fair deal,” Gracy said.

She said she wants to protect the city’s general fund as much as possible.

“With everything in totality in our city, this is a very big exposure and one I’m not comfortable with. But I know more will get hammered out as we go,” Gracy said.

Commissioner John Tornga said he’s confident in the negotiations that are occurring.

“It’s been an arduous process, and there’s been a lot of time spent on this by staff,” he said, adding that the commission also has spent a lot of time discussing it.

He said the commission appreciates the input from residents and stakeholders.

“I want to thank everyone, and I’m consistent with the conversation that has occurred up here,” he said.

Commissioner Moe Freaney said she has been consistent in her views on the Jays.

“I’ve always been a proponent of keeping the Jays in town,” she said, “if we can. I’ve always used the term we can’t sell our souls, and we can’t. We have to be reasonable. If we can make those things balance out, I’m a big proponent.”

Ward Bujalski said she can’t say how many day, night and weekend conversations she has had with city officials about the Jays.

“We have a weekly meeting on Mondays to make sure the negotiating team is staying on task, and they kind of go off in the week with their duties, things that they got to accomplish and information they need to research when they bring other folks in,” she said. “It has been a process, nothing like I have ever seen before,” she said.

Ward Bujalski said the parties involved have come to terms about organizations using facilities for softball, and city officials will determine a new location for the dog park.

“I just believe the steps we have taken are pretty good,” she said.

The City Commission April 20 approved the second amendment to the licensing agreement, extending it from Dec. 31, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2019.

The second amendment is designed to allow both parties the time needed for planning, design and financing associated with construction of new facilities. City officials say it will effectively serve as a bridge to the new long-term license agreement.

Tom Germond is editor of the Dunedin Beacon. He can be reached at 727-397-5563, ext. 330, or by an email at tgermond@TBNweeky.com.
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