DUNEDIN — Saws whine, vehicles beep and what he calls “160 ants” scurry around the construction site that is the Dunedin spring home of the Toronto Blue Jays. But amid the bustle, Kyle Freeburg, senior project manager for construction partners Gilbane Turner, has an extremely high level of confidence that everything will be in place by Opening Day.
“One hundred percent,” Freeburg said during a tour of the stadium earlier this month. “What it’s coming down to, is we’re doing the finishes. You don’t want to put the finishes in too fast.”
So turf is being watered, landscaping is being installed, and wiring is snaking into place as the $102 million overhaul of what is now TD Ballpark and the team’s nearby Player Development Center inches toward completion.
It’s the largest construction project in Dunedin history, launched with a November 2017 agreement that will keep Toronto’s spring training and minor-league operations in the city for the next 25 years. The Blue Jays, who entered the big leagues in 1977, are the only major-league team to have a single spring training site for its entire existence.
“The project here is going to be on schedule for the first home game on the 24th of February, and the PDC, we’re looking at having that done in July or August,” said Doug Hutchens, deputy city manager and the city’s point man on the stadium renovation. “It’s progressing well.”
The original agreement called for an $81 million upgrade to the stadium, at 373 Douglas Ave., and a start-from-scratch training center on Solon Avenue. Of that, $41.7 million came from county tourist development taxes; $13.7 million came from the state; $5.6 million came from city coffers; and the Blue Jays kicked in $20 million.
Since then, the team has added more than $20 million more, largely for amenities in the state-of-the-art training center, and the city upped its stake by another $530,000 for a ride-share pickup/dropoff site. That brings the project’s worth to about $101.5 million.
The stadium features capacity of 8,500, up from 5,500, with new standing room and “party deck” viewing and a grandstand extension stretching down the third baseline.
That extension includes a new indoor, air-conditioned lounge, “Eddie’s,” with the naming rights acquired by Thomas E. George, who acquired Eddie’s Bar & Grill on Bayshore Boulevard in 2016.
Fans will be able to stroll 360 degrees through the stadium, with a new walkway spanning the outfield from baseline to baseline and a wider pathway through the grandstand. In right-center field, an outdoor tiki bar beckons, and drink rails line the walkway so fans can stop and catch the action.
Bathrooms, concessions and suites have been renovated.
There is a new LED scoreboard and Jays Shop.
At the Player Development Complex, there is a 10,000-square-foot weight room, eight locker rooms, two dining rooms, two training rooms, classrooms, conference rooms, pools and a sauna.
At two stories and 100,000 square feet, it’s nearly three times the size of the previous training site.
Outdoors, there are three new ballfields, for a total of six; and new batting cages, pitchers’ mounds and a second half-field.
The Jays finished fourth in the five-team American League East division last year, but there is reason for optimism.
The team roster features the sons of three of the best sluggers in major league baseball history — Vladimir Guerrero Jr., whose dad is in the Hall of Fame; Cavan Biggio, son of Hall-of-Famer Craig; and Bo Bichette, whose dad Dante is in the top 250 all-time in every major hitting category.
With a new product on the field and an overhauled stadium, it looks to be a busy spring in Dunedin.
“We’re ahead of last year with ticket sales at this point, but our real rush happens a little closer to the season,” said Shelby Nelson, the team’s director of Florida operations. “The city, the residents here and our fans will really enjoy all the new amenities in this facility. We’re really excited about what’s going on right now.”