Tiger Town renovations scaled back

Joker Marchant Stadium

Tiger Town renovations at the Lakeland spring-training complex has been scaled back, as city and county officials work to put together a funding plan.

The original price tag for renovations to the spring home of the Detroit Tigers, which includes Joker Marchant Stadium, was $50 million, but that number has been trimmed down to $37.5 million. The current funding equation: $17 million from the Polk County bed tax, $12 million in state money and $7 million from the city. This still leaves a small funding gap.

And none of these revenue streams are totally assured. One big issue is using $17 million from the county bed taxes. Though it’s been estimated that Tigers spring training brings in $45 million annually to Polk County, some are opposed to using so much county money on a single project. And there’s also the issue of basically using the rest of the proceeds from the county bed tax on a single project. Baseball tourism is a big thing in Polk County, and it goes on in cities like Auburndale and Winter Haven. From the Lakeland Ledger:

The Tourism Development Council will consider a recommendation from a subcommittee Thursday that could put off proposed projects in Auburndale and Winter Haven for about 10 years in favor of a $17 million contribution to a $37.5 million renovation of the Detroit Tiger’s spring training home in Lakeland.

The Polk County bed tax — a 5 percent sales tax levied on short-term rentals throughout Polk County — could be used to take out about $22 million in bonds, but a $17 million expenditure would kill other projects because county officials want to keep some wiggle room so they won’t default on a bond if the economy takes another downturn.

That means if the Tourism Development Council agrees to support the $17 million contribution to the Joker Marchant Stadium renovations, hopes of funding new baseball fields for the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational and locking in the tournament and its $24 million economic impact past 2019 is unlikely.

Funding things like youth baseball fields isn’t as glamorous or impactful as funding a makeover of Tiger Town. But there’s a very real economic impact when it comes to youth baseball, which means the politicians in Polk County will need to make some hard decisions.

About Kevin Reichard

Kevin Reichard is editor and publisher of Spring Training Online.

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