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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
The Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals want Palm Beach County to help pay for a $100 million upgrade of their spring training stadium in Jupiter, a request that some tourism leaders say could threaten their ability to plan future projects that draw travelers to the area.
Representatives from both teams appeared before the county's Tourist Development Council on Thursday to make their pitch to overhaul the clubhouses, offices, training areas and public spaces at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter. Among the list of renovations: new and expanded clubhouses for both teams; agility fields; more batting tunnels; the expansion of the team store; Wi-Fi for fans; a new scoreboard; and more shaded seating areas.
The 7,000-seat, county-owned stadium opened in 1998, and has never undergone a major renovation, county officials said. However, before the start of spring training this year, the county and teams spent about $560,000 for minor upgrades at Roger Dean, including shade canopies, new sod, and refreshed skyboxes.
The Marlins and the Cardinals have a lease to use the stadium that expires in 2027. If the renovation is approved, the teams would extend their lease until 2047, when the Houston Astros' and Washington Nationals' leases in West Palm Beach expire, officials said.
Under the stadium proposal, the Marlins and the Cardinals would pay part of the renovation cost, although the exact amount is still being discussed. The teams also hope to get as much as $50 million from the state, a pledge that would be paid over a 25-year period.
Team representatives said the Roger Dean stadium has challenges, both in terms of player development and fan experiences. The renovations, they said, are needed to help the teams compete with others in the state.
The Marlins emphasized that the facility is used year-round and under new ownership, the expanded player development and scouting department is housed in Jupiter, where the staff lives year-round. The facility plays host to minor league baseball as well as 15 major travel baseball tournaments.
Since 2011, there have been nine spring training renovation or construction projects planned in Florida. Those projects will accommodate 10 teams by 2021, officials said.
Claude Delorme, executive vice president of operations and events for the Miami Marlins said the stadium's basic systems, including its plumbing lines, are also in need of significant upgrades.
"Understand if we leave the building the way it is, it is going to cost everyone a lot more," Delorme said. "Leaving it as it is will become a problem."
The tourist council did not vote on the request. The council, which acts as an advisory board for the county commission, is expected to discuss the project at a workshop. Ultimately, the county commission will decide whether tourism taxes will fund renovation.
Some of the tourist council's members, however, took aim at the plan, saying the proposal would do little to draw new tourists to the area.
"What they are asking for is a nice enhancement, but they haven't sold a single new tourist into Palm Beach County," said David Burke, a longtime member of the county's Tourist Development Council. "It is enhancing the stadium."
Members also raised concerns about the project's price tag.
The tourism board is in the process of evaluating the expansion the Palm Beach County Convention Center in downtown West Palm Beach, a project that could cost $100 million.
The stadium renovation, coupled with the convention center expansion, would leave the county without a way to pay for other tourism-generating projects that may be proposed over the next two decades, some tourist council members fear.
"At the end of the day there is X-amount of dollars, and if we can't justify the distribution of those dollars to put heads in (hotel) beds, drive tourism to the brand of Palm Beach County, then we have to make hard decisions," said John Tolbert, the president and managing director of the Boca Raton Resort & Club and a member of the county's Tourist Development Council.
Under the proposal, the county would use tourism tax money to pay for the stadium renovation.
The county collects about $50 million a year in tourism taxes, which are levied on hotel stay and vacation rentals.
The 6 percent tourism tax, also known as a bed tax, is used to pay for tourism-related advertising, beach renourishment and facilities such as spring training baseball stadiums and the convention center. About $17 million a year is set aside for building improvements and new facilities.
Nearly 1.5 million people attended spring training games in the state this year. Attendance at Palm Beach County's two stadiums stood at 281,412 for the season. The Marlins and the Cardinals drew 139,478 fans during the 45-day spring training period, officials said.
George Linley, the executive director of the county's sports commission, said about 61 percent of spring training tickets are purchased by people outside of the state.
County Administrator Verdenia Baker pointed to the age of the stadium. Ultimately, she said, the county will have to make an investment in the facility. State money set aside to keep spring training baseball in Florida may not be available in future years, she added.
"At some point, we are going to have to make a decision," Baker said. "We need to reinvest in this property. To what level, that's to be seen. But we must reinvest in this property."
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Spring training renovations
The Marlins and Cardinals presented a list to the Tourism Development Council on recent upgrades by Major League Baseball teams for spring training facilities with cost and completion dates:
San Francisco Giants (Scottsdale, Ariz): $60 million, January 2021
Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin): $81 million, February 2020
Milwaukee Brewers (Phoenix): $60 million, February 2019
New York Mets (Port St. Lucie): $55 million, February 2019
Detroit Tigers (Lakeland): $48 million, completed
Minnesota Twins (Fort Myers): $51 million, completed
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