A lawsuit from local citizen groups has derailed a bond offering to fund a renovation of Ed Smith Stadium for the spring operations of the Baltimore Orioles, a delay that may force the O’s to play in the ballpark in its current condition for 2011 and possibly beyond.
The lawsuit from Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens for Sunshine say Florida’s open-meetings laws were ignored when Sarasota County and the Orioles came to an agreement for a 30-year ballpark lease and $31 million from the county for renovations to the former spring home of the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds. The county and the city of Sarasota were preparing to put the bonds on the market when the lawsuit was filed; the legal action effectively makes the bonds unsellable, so everything is on hold.
County officials say they’re confident about winning the lawsuit. In the meantime, plans for the Ed Smith Stadium renovation are on hold. The county and the Orioles had hoped to start work on the ballpark renovation right after spring training ends in April, but it looks like the Orioles will need to wait until April 2011 for renovations. Ed Smith Stadium is still a functional ballpark and in much better shape than was Fort Lauderdale Stadium, the team’s former spring home, so the shift to Sarasota is still a move up for the franchise. There’s little chance the Orioles will walk away from Sarasota in 2011, but if a long-term lease is struck down by the courts, the team may be back in play in 2012 and beyond.