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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
October 17, 2013 Thursday
A SECTION; Pg. 1A
|Astros owner pitches Gardens stadium plans;
Astros owner: 'We've got to win them over';
He meets residents, tries to allay concerns at crowded open house.
By Joe Capozzi Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
PALM BEACH GARDENS
Few of the 300 people who attended Wednesday's open house on a proposed spring training stadium recognized Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.
Before they left, nearly all of them had shaken his hand -- Crane made sure of that.
He was supposed to spend the three-hour meeting at the Doubletree hotel standing next to the shiny poster boards showing the site plans for the proposed facility off Central Boulevard, which his team would share with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Instead, he walked out into the lobby and introduced himself to people as they waited in a slow-moving line that stretched more than 50 yards down a hallway. He started at the back of the line and worked his way to the front.
"If you want to get things done, you've got to lead by example. That's why I'm here,'' Crane said . "I'll stay here until I get to the last person .''
Crane was eager to make a favorable first impression Wednesday in the first public gathering since he started talking to city officials nearly 18 months ago about his desire to move the Astros' spring training operations to the city.
"It's personal with me,'' he said. "This is a project we'd like to see happen and we want them to know firsthand from the top of the organization we are committed to this.''
He still has a long way to go. Financing for the $100 million project is still being worked out. And not all residents are embracing the idea of two major league baseball teams training in a residential area.
Several residents of the Shady Lakes community south of the stadium site said they did not like the loss of City Park, a small park that would have to be moved to make way for the stadium, or a plan to extend Shady Lakes Drive north to 117th Court North and make both roads four lanes.
"I really worry about the children," Garden Lakes resident Charles Henderson said, noting that kids walk and ride bikes to Timber Trace Elementary and Watson B. Duncan Middle schools on a path that would become the four-lane northern extension of Shady Lakes Drive.
Shady Lakes resident William Larrison said he was mad that the city did not share more details about the stadium proposal with residents before Wednesday. "I'm hoping they will listen to the opposition because there's a groundswell of opposition," Larrison said.
Crane said he hoped Wednesday's open house would be a step toward easing those concerns. He was joined in the hotel conference room by city officials stationed near booths offering information on topics varying from an overview of spring training in Florida to nearby traffic issues .
"We've got to win them over,'' said Crane, who owns the Floridian Golf Club in Palm City.
"We want to make sure they get the information. You walk around the room, every question you got you'll get an answer.''
One of the main points Crane hammered home to people he met was how the project would help save spring training in Florida.
The site is just 3 miles down Central Boulevard from Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, which is shared by the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.
"Quite frankly if this doesn't get done they can opt out of their leases and you could see a problem," Crane said.
Whether residents were satisfied with the answers they got Wednesday remains to be seen. City Manager Ron Ferris said the city will host another public meeting on the stadium at a later date.
But Crane's presence at Wednesday's open house seemed to impress many people in attendance.
"He could have sent anybody (in his place),'' said Marsha Adler, a property manager at the Mirasol neighborhood. "As soon as he said who he was, that impressed me.''
The site plan showed 12 practice fields with a main stadium in the middle of the complex. Home plate in the main stadium is configured with the batter facing the northeast.
With help from proper wind gusts, a left-handed power hitter might have a chance to hit a ball over the right field wall and onto Interstate 95.
"If they do, we will pay them! We don't have anybody who could hit it over on top of the highway now,'' Crane said with a laugh.
He said the stadium was configured like that so signage will face highway traffic. He said he has not secured naming rights yet.
Crane said he looked at other sites in Florida and Arizona, but none compares to the Palm Beach Gardens site. "We have been zeroed in on this spot. We think it's a great location," he said.
As for the design, Crane said he envisions a ballpark with a capacity of around 10,000.
"You will see something that's nice, family friendly and will make people comfortable to be there. I don't think it'll be huge," he said.
One person from outside of Palm Beach County who attended the meeting said he hopes the project fails.
Vince Gizzi, parks and recreation director for Dunedin, where the Blue Jays hold spring training, came to assess the competition in Palm Beach Gardens in hopes of keeping the Blue Jays in his city.
"We're going to put our best foot forward," Gizzi said.
training site for two teams
$100 million complex on 117 acres east of Central Boulevard would become the spring training home of the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Money from the state and bed taxes charged to the county's hotel guests would pay for the stadium.
Stadium complex would be used six weeks a year for spring training and could be used for youth sports and community events at other times.
Road improvements on 117th Court North and Shady Lakes Drive are planned to improve traffic flow around the stadium.
Answers to 14 frequently asked questions about the stadium proposal are available at www.pbgfl.com/springbaseball.
October 17, 2013