To say the future of spring training for two teams and three cities will be determined in the next three days is an understatement, as Lee County officials debate an $80-million deal to keep the Boston Red Sox and Sarasota officials look for $10 million to close an $80-million deal for a downtown facility at Payne Park. Lurking in the shadows are the Baltimore Orioles, who may end up in Sarasota, Fort Myers or Vero Beach. Here are the various scenarios:
- The Boston Red Sox and Sarasota officials have been discussing a $70-million facility that includes a new ballpark in Payne Park — the team’s spring-training home during the Ted Williams era — and a renovated training facility at the Ed Smith Stadium site. Currently Sarasota officials have identified $60 million in funding sources, leaving a gap of $10 million. There’s been discussion of raising the county hotel tax by a penny to make up the difference. An October 29 county commission meeting will clarify the situation.
- As a backup plan, Sarasota officials have also discussed renovating Ed Smith Stadium for the Baltimore Orioles, who must vacate Fort Lauderdale Stadium and are looking for a new home. Renovation of Ed Smith Stadium would be the lower-cost option for the county, but the Orioles traditionally have not attracted the rabid spring-training fans found in Red Sox Nation. The Orioles have a history in Sarasota; their minor-league teams train at Twin Lakes Park. In theory, both the Sox and the O’s could end up in Sarasota, but there doesn’t appear to be enough money both for a new Red Sox ballpark and a renovated Ed Smith Stadium.
- Fort Myers officials are looking, and received initial approval, for a half-cent sales tax to fund an $80-million spring-training complex, preferably out in Bonita Springs or Estero. A Nov. 5 meeting will help clarify that situation, but there’s some confusion as to exactly how close Lee County officials are to a plan: they have a set of conceptual drawings but no land, and no commitment from the Red Sox. Under one scenario, the Red Sox move to a new facility and the Orioles take up residence in City of Palms Park.
- Vero Beach officials have made a lot of noise in recent months about being close to a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, but it may take more than just a $12 million overhaul of Dodgertown — like Vero Beach officials want — to land the team. Holman Stadium is quaint and lovely, but it doesn’t generate the income an MLB team expects.
Predictions? We have none. Sarasota had the Red Sox ready to commit and blew it by demanding $10 million from the team — something the Red Sox ownership made clear they were not willing to pay. Baltimore officials seem happy to let the Red Sox take the lead and then adjust. Vero Beach seems a long shot at this point to land the O’s or the Red Sox: $12 million isn’t enough to turn Holman Stadium into a modern facility.