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DrShorebird

Orioles and Sarasota Talking Seriously Again

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It's not looking good for Sarasota now - again. The city is afraid of losing money in the deal and are leaning against it.

SARASOTA - Two county commissioners, backed by the business community, are trying one last time to put together a deal to bring Baltimore Orioles spring training baseball to Ed Smith Stadium.

But City of Sarasota officials are leaning against it, afraid they could lose millions of dollars if the local tourism market fails to rebound.

County Commissioner Shannon Staub approached the city publicly on Monday to pitch the deal, then the county followed up with a letter this week trying to nudge the city into giving a solid answer.

The city has not responded yet, but in interviews and e-mails, Mayor Dick Clapp and City Manager Robert Bartolotta have said they are not willing to risk creating another hit to the city's budget.

The deal is modeled after the $33 million offer that the Orioles turned down months ago, but includes a sweetener: An additional $2.7 million from the city.

Staub say the $2.7 million -- it comes out to about $165,000 a year -- is reasonable because the city has been paying a yearly $320,000 subsidy for the Cincinnati Reds, who played their last game at Ed Smith this month. Without baseball, the city would have to pay to maintain the stadium.

"$165,000 in the scheme of their whole budget is not a killer," Staub says.

But Clapp and Bartolotta, bracing to cut $9.8 million out of a $57 million annual budget, say they cannot afford it.

...

Clapp and Bartolotta point out that the deal calls for the city to borrow $24 million for construction, which would be paid back by the county from tourist tax revenue.

The arrangement is designed to sidestep a county charter rule requiring the county to hold a referendum before borrowing more than $20 million in tourist development tax money.

If the city and county go through with the deal, a government watchdog group promises to challenge it in court.

"They are trying to say, 'We are not really doing this,' but they are," said Cathy Antunes, a founding member of Citizens for Responsible Government. The group formed in opposition to a $70 million deal to lure Boston Red Sox spring training to Sarasota.

Another concern for the city is a drop in tourism revenues this year, and a recent county memo that says the city will only get bond payments from the county "to the extent that they are actually received."

City officials say the county is expecting them to take all of the risk in paying back the $24 million.

"The city does not have any hard and fast security," Clapp said. "That's the rub. It falls back to the city taxpayers if something were to happen to TDT and we are on the hook for the bond."

Staub counters that there has been a reserve established in case tourism tax revenues fail to recover.

Staub said the city had agreed to borrow money when it was trying to work out deals with the Reds and the Red Sox, and that she does not understand why they are balking now. "That was always the plan," she said.

Looks more and more like the Orioles are going to Ft. Myers. You would think the O's could kick in an extra 3 million and that would solve the problem, but Sarasota seems to think of them as the red-headed stepchild compared to the Reds and Red Sox and doesn't seem to be willing to borrow money as they were for those two teams.

AFAIK, the Orioles still have the option of leasing Ed Smith as is to move ML ST closer to the minor league ST while they wait for the Sux to vacate City of Palms. Chances are that's probably what will happen IMO...

Deadlines are approaching though, and the City is supposed to meet about this on May 5th, while the Orioles have to give an answer to Lauderdale about picking up the option in their lease by May 1st...

Edited by JTrea81

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It does not sound like Sarasota is stepping up. The City had been paying $320k for the Reds and now would only have to pay $165k for the Os. The city is being cheap if they are not putting out the same as they did for the Reds.

We need a quality facility. Times are tough now, but they will rebound and we should not look back in 10 years and realize we gave anyone what turns out to be a sweetheart deal. If anything, these towns are catching a break in that the cost to build will be so much cheaper than in good times.

A sweetheart deal for the Os does not appear to be in the cards right now, IMO.

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It does not sound like Sarasota is stepping up. The City had been paying $320k for the Reds and now would only have to pay $165k for the Os. The city is being cheap if they are not putting out the same as they did for the Reds.

We need a quality facility. Times are tough now, but they will rebound and we should not look back in 10 years and realize we gave anyone what turns out to be a sweetheart deal. If anything, these towns are catching a break in that the cost to build will be so much cheaper than in good times.

A sweetheart deal for the Os does not appear to be in the cards right now, IMO.

The $165,000 per year isn't the huge sticking point from what I can see, rather the City worrying about losing millions from not being reimbursed through the County tourism revenue if it doesn't rebound from where it has fallen to. If they don't have an increase in those funds, they feel they won't be able to pay back the whole $24 million and will have to foot the rest of the bill with other $.

However as Commissioner Staub pointed out, the County does have a reserve fund to make up that difference and Sarasota was willing to borrow to keep the Reds in town and to try to lure the Red Sox, so they should be willing to borrow for the Orioles...

Edited by JTrea81

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Greetings from Abano Terme, Italy. Yes, the Orioles situation can be followed from these ancient foothills.

While there is much public pessimism, there is also some public optimism. My e-mails from those working on the project are encouraging. So there is still hope. Public input from Hangouters – especially those in Florida (but really from all of us as we are potential tourists) will also help. I have found the Commissioners to be caring, supportive and polite. They are indeed looking out for their constituents. Please help them understand how important having the Orioles in Sarasota is to the economy of their business community.

The City of Sarasota is expected to consider the Orioles at their meeting Monday, May 4th.

Email addresses for the commissioners are available here:

http://www.sarasotagov.com/InsideCit...missioners.htm

You can follow the Sarasota City Commission on Twitter here:

http://twitter.com/cityofsarasota

Here is a reasoned editorial in Sunday’s Herald Tribune.

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20090426/OPINION/904261032

Orioles' proposal solves a problem and offers economic benefits

“… But the fact is, Sarasota residents voted in 1986 to tax themselves to build the stadium and retain an association with Major League Baseball that dates back to 1924.

The city did not adequately reinvest in the stadium and adjoining fields, hence the Reds' decision to leave if improvements weren't made.

Short list of choices

So, what are the city's options?

1. Keep paying the maintenance costs and try to offset them with minor-league games or other events.

2. Turn the complex into a public recreation venue.

3. Entertain two conceptual proposals to sell or lease the sports complex to private enterprise -- and hope they or some surprise offer materialize before the maintenance costs take their toll on the city budget.

4. Make a mutually beneficial agreement with the Baltimore Orioles, who have signaled their desire to headquarter their Florida operations in Sarasota -- and pay $5 million, provide targeted advertising and bring a well-established youth academy program for the privilege.

Option 1 costs the city more money than it can afford to lose.

Option 2 has no takers, as best we can tell. The city lacks money to provide public recreation at the site, and the county government has shown no inclination to do so; it has revenue problems, too.

Option 3 has some appeal to city leaders who want to unload the stadium, a public asset, and use any sale or lease proceeds to prop up the overall municipal budget.

Sell a city asset?

City Manager Bob Bartolotta recently told the City Commission the private-sector proposals were "worth pursuing." But he also described them as conceptual, laden with "unknowns" and requiring "a lot of work" to assess.

Indeed, it's not clear whether either of the proposals could gain and maintain private sector investments in the current economic climate.

One of the proposals calls for private acquisition of the property for $6 million less than the appraised value -- and seeks city and county contributions toward renovations. Although this proposal includes the intriguing idea of bringing a Japanese team to Sarasota to play major-league spring games and minor-league games in the summer, the idea would require approval from Major League Baseball -- a questionable proposition, at best. …

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The Baltimore Orioles have been at Twin Lakes for 19 years. This is their minor league camp for 10 months out of the year. Players arrive in late January and are on hand until late October. They pay rent of approximately $285,000 each year. The Orioles also spend well over $1,000,000 in Sarasota annually to accommodate the team and staff. A caterer is on hand for meals for those 10 months (not included in the money above).

Three motels and one hotel accommodate players, coaches and trainers for rehabilitation and instructional training and are here most of the year. In addition, the Orioles have a Fantasy Camp (those who love baseball and want to pay big bucks just to play with the old-timers) in late January. They also stay in hotels. In February and March there are at least two hundred minor league players and staff. From April through October one hundred or more players are here--that incudes their Florida minor league team (June through August).

Just where would the motels, hotels, restaurants, be without this revenue? And this is before Sarasota commits to bringng the Orioles here for major league preseason. When the Orioles finally decide to come to Sarasota--a fate now in the hands of the City of Sarasota--think how much more revenue would be added. With the Orioles promise to bring their MASN television network (watched from North Carolina to Pennsylvania) the city of Sarasota will be a new tourist location for millions of baseball and Cal Ripken little league fans. Not even the Red Sox could offer that.

How could you not vote for this added revenue? Or gamble to lose what we already have?

e-mail sent by a Mr. Charles Johnson

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Here is a letter sent to the SRQ HT, this week.

by a Mr. Norman Schimmel

The letters to the editor are driving me nuts.

1. There will be no Japanese tourism from this. Japan to here

is 7400 miles. Japan to Hawaii (who has some beaches, fine restaurants and speak Japanese fluently) 3850 miles. Japan

to Hong Kong 1800 miles. Japan to Australia 6000 miles. Don't even ask about the beaches there.

2. MLB would have to approve them playing here against

their teams. This is an economic situation and doubtful at very best. If you want to see the Japanese team play Booker,

Sarasota or a junior college team; be my guest. There would

still be no tourism dollars.

3. If IMG or someone else develops an academy and takes

the stadium at OUR loss of dollars; there will be no tourism.

We are talking business here, not baseball. We need to keep

our hotels, resorts, beaches upgraded. We need to improve our property values and keep out taxes down. We need to keep our town businesses going instead of closing, as they are now.

Jump on the Orioles as quickly as possible. They are NOT the

Red Sox or the return on investment that they could have

provided BUT; they are the answer. The price for this has come down and we need to get this done, NOW.

Norman Schimmel

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Greetings from Abano Terme, Italy. Yes, the Orioles situation can be followed from these ancient foothills.

...

But you didn't answer the most important question. Would Abano Terme build a facility so the Orioles could train there? It could start a whole new trend.

I've long ago given up on the Orioles ever having a permanent home. They are to be nomads forever. Sarasota seems right, but if the city won't move then we have to look at Ft. Myers again.

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Hangouters, please help the Orioles get a new first-class home for spring training. Please send an e-mail to each of the following Sarasota City Commissioners requesting their support for an Orioles spring training complex to stimulate business in Sarasota. Thank you.

Richard.clapp@sarasotagov.com

Kelly.Kirschner@sarasota.gov

Fredd.Atkins@sarasota.gov

Suzanne.Atwell@sarasota.gov

Terry.Turner@sarasota.gov

Here is an e-mail sent in support by a friend.

"My friends..(sounds like FDR ) May 4, 2009, the above 5 city commissioners will be making their decision as to whether the Orioles will play here next year. Only need 3 out of the 5 to vote for

The city has to put up apprx $185,000 per year for 20 years seems simple enough........

Much of the tourism will dry up and may never return..........

The revenue that will be gained by the city is 20 to 30 million. If they don't have major League training here. That revenue will be lost............and will never come back."

Thanks for all your support...This morning at breakfast Dick Vitale said he is supporting us too.

Thanks much,

D J (sender of above e-mail)

Edited by DrShorebird

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