Red Sox signs deal to keep spring training in Lee County

After months of flirtation with Sarasota, the Boston Red Sox decided to go with the sure thing and signed a 30-year lease to keep spring training in Lee County in a new facility. Sarasota had aggressively courted the Red Sox and were close to a deal until officials decided to demand $10 million upfront from the Sox — money the Sox were not willing to pay. The deal calls for Lee County to construct a new complex with 9,999 seats and six practice fields at no cost to the team past normal market rent of $500,000 annually; the county will pay for all $80 million of the price tag. The actual location hasn’t been determined: the county has issued a call for 80 acres of land to developers, who would donate the land to the county and then retain development rights for the remainder. The early favorite for a site is between Bonita Beach Road and Daniels Parkway, near Interstate 75.  The plan is for the new facility to open in time for Spring Training 2012.

With the Red Sox seemingly locked into Lee County, the attention will turn next to the Baltimore Orioles, who have been in contact both with Sarasota and Fort Myers officials about a potential move to those cities from Fort Lauderdale as well as receiving an offer to lease Dodgertown and Holman Stadium. The Orioles have some pretty good options. First, Sarasota officials seem receptive to use some of the $60 million allocated to the Red Sox to renovate Ed Smith Stadium for the O’s; Sarasota is also a decent market that could also house an Orioles FSL team. The Orioles also know the market, housing their minor-league complex in Sarasota’s Twin Lakes Park. Second, Fort Myers’ City of Palms Park isn’t a bad facility — it’s better than what the O’s have in Fort Lauderdale Stadium — and there’s be a nice little synergy with the Twins, Red Sox and Rays all in the same market. Dodgertown represent the worst market for the O’s, despite the offer of $13 million: the closest airports for Orioles fans are in Melbourne and Palm Beach (you certainly cannot fly direct from Baltimore to Vero Beach, but you can from Baltimore to Fort Myers and Sarasota), and it may take more than $13 million to raise Holman Stadium — quaint but rundown — to the level needed to generate some serious revenue.