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Thursday, Aug 16, 2018
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Hillsborough commissioners approve $40 million in Steinbrenner Field renovations

TAMPA — The New York Yankees, one of the world’s most valuable sports franchises, will continue playing their spring training games in Tampa for the next 30 years.

Hillsborough County commissioners approved a new lease agreement with the team on Wednesday that will finance $40 million in upgrades to George M. Steinbrenner field and keep the team here until 2046.

The county and state will pay two thirds of the cost of the renovations, which will include new seats, a roof replacement, enlarged social gathering spaces, a spruced-up entry plaza, and more shade for fans. The Yankees will also improve the team’s Himes Avenue office and training facilities east of the ballpark on Dale Mabry Avenue.

Commissioner Ken Hagan said the county’s investment, about $13.1 million, will return much more money in economic impacts and lease payments. He reminded the board that the county owns Steinbrenner field and has an obligation to protect the taxpayers’ investment.

“The George M. Steinbrenner Field is an extremely valuable economic and community asset,” Hagan said just before the board voted 7-0 for the lease agreement. “Hillsborough County owns Steinbrenner Field, and as such, we have a vested interest in maintaining a state-of-the art competitive facility.”

The county’s share will come from the fourth cent of the county Tourism Development Tax, which can only be used to promote tourism or to finance renovation and construction of professional sports fields.

A third of the renovation costs will come from the Florida Spring Training Retention Program, a state fund developed three years ago to keep major league baseball teams from moving their spring training operations out of state.

The Yankees will pay the remainder of the costs.

Hagan touted a list of economic benefits the county will accrue by keeping the major league team in Tampa in the spring and the Tampa Yankees minor league franchise playing in the summer.

Since 2010, local sales tax collections related to the Yankees totaled $4.4 million, Hagan said. The team employs nearly 500 county residents with salaries in excess of $45 million.

In 2015, Hagan said, people who attended Yankee spring training games spent $96 million in shops, restaurants and other local businesses. Since 2013, out-of-state residents who come to town to see the Yankees have spent $1 million on hotels.

The team’s current lease runs through 2025. Hagan said by extending the lease to 2046, lease payments to the county would increase from $1.6 million to $12.37 million and a ticket surcharge fee will increase payments to the county by an additional $2 million.

Because the county owns Steinbrenner Field, it yields no property taxes, but the team’s training center on Himes Avenue, east of the stadium, will pay $100,000 a year in taxes after renovations.

The agreement also has to be approved by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which owns the Himes Avenue property, and Hillsborough Community College, which owns land adjoining the stadium that is used for parking on game days.

Unlike the current contract, the new agreement provides penalties if the Yankees decide to leave for another city before 2046. An early departure would require the team to pay all of the debt incurred by the county as well as $500,000 a year for all the years remaining on the lease.

About 172,000 fans attend the Yankee spring training games each year, resulting in $160 million in economic impacts, including over $1 million from hotel room nights since 2013, according to the team.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott announced record attendance for spring training games in Florida. Average per-game attendance this year was 7,096, the first time that measurement has topped 7,000. The Yankees led in attendance among the 10 major league teams that train in Florida with 160,849 fans pushing through the turnstiles.

Not everyone thinks financing stadium improvements with public funds is a good deal for taxpayers. Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, in a 2015 report, found that the state gets just 11 cents back in increased sales taxes or other income from every dollar it spends on spring training complexes.

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