Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers finally got an answer from the Toronto Blue Jays, which has been coming to his town for spring training since the team started playing ball in 1977. Just not the answer he wanted. Friday, team owner Paul Beeston confirmed for Eggers what the mayor had read in news reports Thursday night: that the Blue Jays would pursue a shared stadium site in Palm Beach Gardens with the Houston Astros before negotiating to stay in Dunedin. "He said that they're seriously considering the [Palm Beach Gardens] location," Eggers said. "My take on it is that there is a very strong possibility that that's where they end up."
The Blue Jays' latest contract with the city to play at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium expires at the end of 2016. In March, on the heels of an announcement that tens of millions of state dollars will soon be available for facility upgrades, team executives said they were dissatisfied with Dunedin's training facilities for a variety of reasons. Chief among those is the 3-mile distance between the stadium and the training fields. They have yet to meet with city officials. While the Blue Jays flirt with Palm Beach Gardens, its contract with Dunedin prevents the city from negotiating with other teams. The Blue Jays has two five-year options for extending its contract, meaning it could opt at any time to stay in Dunedin. "There are numerous teams that are looking around," Eggers said."We still have options we need [to] honor. It's a frustrating and disappointing process." The Astros, which has a contract to train in Osceola County that also ends in 2016, is working on a proposal to bring a spring training complex to Palm Beach Gardens. The complex would cost tens of millions of dollars to build; half of that cost would fall to the city and the county. To help keep Florida from losing any more spring training teams to Arizona, Gov. Rick Scott this year championed a fund to provide matching dollars for cities and counties that want to upgrade their facilities or build new ones to retain or attract teams. The fund would put $20 million toward a single-team facility and $50 million toward a complex shared by two teams. The Astros would need buy-in from another team on a two-team complex; the Blue Jays has expressed interest, according to Giles Kibbe, a lawyer for the Astros. Blue Jays representatives did not return calls seeking comment. Thursday, Astros owner Jim Crane told the Houston Chronicle his team and the Blue Jays were close to finishing up a deal to build a shared stadium in Palm Beach Gardens. "We're getting down to where we're getting ready to design it," he told the Chronicle. "It's going to be a couple of years before it's done, but the money's getting in place, and we're getting ready to complete that transaction." Any proposal would need city, county and state approval before the state would pay out any money. "The state is the last piece of the puzzle," said Nick Gandy, a spokesman for the Florida Sports Foundation, the organization that oversees the grant program. "Everything needs to be done on the local levels first." At the local level, nothing is set in stone. For one thing, where much of the funding would come from remains uncertain. Tourist development tax dollars will be freed up once Palm Beach County pays off Roger Dean Stadium, the two-team complex in Jupiter, where the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals train; but beyond that, possible funding remains uncertain. "We have got about two million a year that is directed to the Jupiter stadium right now, and that is paid off in two years," said Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman. "If the County Commission would decide on any allocation of bed tax, the base $2 million is something that could be approved relatively easily. But anything above that would be a challenge." The city of Palm Beach Gardens is also reticent on how concrete the stadium proposal is. "We are thrilled to hear that Jim Crane has fully committed to move the Houston Astros spring training facility to the City of Palm Beach Gardens, which would keep the Astros in the state of Florida," Palm Beach Gardens spokesman Tom McNicholas said in an email. "The City of Palm Beach Gardens is working with Palm Beach County to see if we can make this deal work. We want to be certain a dual Major League Baseball facility is financially achievable and that it's the best thing for our community." firstname.lastname@example.org (727) 215-7999 Twitter: @kbradshawTBO