Clearwater looks to bolster case for Phillies funding

Record crowds packed Spectrum Field in Clearwater all spring long. Of the 43,316 attendees to games this spring, 16,946 stayed at a hotel or condo. That’s not counting the players and team staff, 183 of whom stayed overnight in hotels, usually for lengthy stays. The TDC requested the data to determine how much the county benefits economically from spring training.

CLEARWATER — Of the 43,316 attendees to Phillies spring training games this spring, 16,946 stayed at a hotel or condo. That’s not counting the players and team staff, 183 of whom stayed overnight in hotels, usually for lengthy stays.

Why does it matter? The statistics, culled from polling fans at Spectrum Field and the baseball team, are part of the data that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department just delivered to the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council. The TDC requested the study to determine how much the county benefits economically from spring training.

“We hired a company to survey baseball patrons as they came in, between 500 and 600 people over multiple days to make a determination of how much people spend on hotels, food, and other items while they’re here,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar. “It’s important to the county; any money they provide for improvements to (the baseball complex) comes out of the bed tax.”

The bottom line is $43.8 million in annual direct, indirect and induced spending from spring training, the city survey said. That includes $6.8 million on hotels, $6.6 million on food and beverages, $2.4 million in other retail purchases, and other spending. That is from March’s Phillies home schedule and doesn’t include the full year-round economic impact, Dunbar said. The statistics do not include the economic impact of the Clearwater Threshers minor-league schedule.

The cost of renovating, modernizing and equipping Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex is expected to cost about $80 million, so much depends on how much the TDC recommends Pinellas County kick in.

“We have lot of plates spinning and a lot of pieces in motion, but we have the right framework in place,” Dunbar said of his work putting the project together. He gave his quarterly update on the sports complex’s funding at the City Council’s July 15 meeting.

According to Dunbar, money for the improvements to team administrative offices, exercise and training equipment and other amenities the Philadelphia franchise wants will come from the city, the team, and state and county coffers. The Carpenter Complex upgrades also include new seating, a revamped club level, and updated air conditioning systems.

The improvements to the ballparks and player facilities are designed to woo the Phillies, who the city hopes will agree to a 20-year lease extension until 2043. Clearwater has hosted the team’s spring training since 1948.

The proposed funding looks like this: The Phillies kick in $10 million, the city pitches in $16 million and $13.7 million would come from a Florida Department of Economic Opportunity bond. If it can be convinced, the remaining $40 million will come from the TDC.

The TDC’s money comes from hotel and motel bed taxes, as well as restaurant and entertainment taxes levied on tourists. The TDC wants more information from Clearwater before it decides how much to kick in, said Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne.

“We’re providing them information that they would like to evaluate, that’s about all I can share at this point,” Horne said. “We are still discussing with the county how we’re looking at the project and how the funding request justifies it, and they’re looking at what they consider legitimate costs.”

Dunbar also told the council that his department has completed design and construction drawings for Carpenter Complex, which includes Spectrum Field, where the Phillies and the team’s farm team, the Threshers, play.

His department is close to bringing a general contractor on board, and has hired Populous, a global architectural design firm that specializes in stadiums and other large event facilities. The company built Kyle Stadium at Texas A&M University, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and rebuilt Yankee Stadium in 2009.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who also sits on the TDC, is a big team booster.

“When people think about what the Phillies bring to the county, they focus just on spring training,” Cretekos said. “They don’t realize that the Phillies and the Threshers help the economy year-round. A lot of (team) employees have retired here. People buy condos here.”