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Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Talks start this week over Plant City Stadium’s future

PLANT CITY A California-based company likens the ballparks it operates as a “Disneyland” for baseball players.

Big League Dreams Inc. often creates miniature versions of such legendary fields as Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. The amenities include restaurants and box seats.

And they’d like to bring their business model to town. The company is offering to take over operation of the money-losing Plant City Stadium and the surrounding complex.

Negotiations are expected to begin this week between Big League Dreams and the city. City Manager Greg Horwedel hopes to conclude talks by the middle of next month.

The California-based sports park management company has submitted a lengthy proposal, and Horwedel said he’s not completely satisfied with it. He declined to be specific on his concerns.

If the city can swing a deal with Big League Dreams, it will be the latest incarnation of a 6,700-seat stadium that has rarely seen large crowds since the Cincinatti Reds ended Spring Training there in 1997. The city built the ballpark for the Reds, who left at the conclusion of a 10-year lease.

Since the Reds left town, the stadium and surrounding complex have had a number of uses, including revivals, July 4th celebrations and other special events.

Also, a women’s professional softball team played there about 13 years ago. Attendance was sparse and the team ceased playing in Plant City.

The International Softball Federation still has its headquarters at the stadium and periodically has sponsored events.

This year, VisionPro Sports Institute has leased the stadium for soccer.

But Big League Dreams was the only bidder when the city advertised for companies interested in operating the 75-acre stadium and sports complex.

Essentially, the city wants to rid itself of the $387,000 per year maintenance costs.

Big League Sports builds and operates sports fields, including replicas of famous ballparks. Company Chief Development Officer Richard Odekirk envisions developing at least two replica stadiums at the Plant City complex, which has multiple playing fields. The stadium itself wouldn’t be transformed into a replica.

Odekirk said his company, which manages 11 sports parks in the West, gets its money by charging fees for teams and leagues to use the ballparks.

According to the proposal to the city, the companies plans include installing artificial turf on four fields to cut maintenance costs and constructing club boxes and a restaurant, among many other improvements. The price tag would top $4 million.

Work would begin in December and be completed in July 2014, according to the proposal.

According to the proposal, the city would share in the profits and be freed from maintenance costs.

Horwedel said, among other points, he wants to negotiate who will pay for the construction and how much revenue the city will receive. The company estimates the stadium complex will generate $3.1 million per year in revenue, including rental fees and concessions.

Odekirk couldn’t be reached last week for comment but he said recently that he was looking forward to talking to the city.

In a cover letter to the city that accompanied its proposal, the company touted its track record operating sports complexes in Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas.

“Big League Dreams is confident we can provide families and visitors the same first class recreation experience that we have done for the last 17 years throughout the country,” the company wrote in part.

Twitter: @dnicholsonTrib

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