Sarasota says they don't have any money for new Reds Stadium

06/25/07 Mitch E. Perry
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As local Governments go thru the painful process of making budget cuts in the aftermath of the special session on property taxes earlier this month, in Sarasota, one casualty appears to be funding for a new spring training home for the Cincinnati Reds.

Last year, a new facility to replace venerable Ed Smith Stadium seemed a sure thing – but with Tallahassee imposing a 7% rollback on the county’s budget, county commissioners last week said they simply can’t fulfill their initial pledge of $17 million dollars, a third of the estimated $54 million dollars costs.

And the city government of Sarasota, which had pledged to contribute $10 million dollars for the stadium, says with budget cuts imposed upon them, it’s looking doubtful they can fund their share as well.

Kelly Kirschner is a City Commissioner in Sarasota. (roll tape#1 o.q.”into a sports stadium”)

The original breakdown of the $54 million dollars estimated to build the new park would come from a variety of sources. In addition to the City contributing $10 million dollars, they also had pledged to find a developer who would pay $10 million to develop land around the new park. But City Commissioner Dick Clapp says that plan hasn’t really come to fruition (roll tape#2 o.q.”has expired”)

As part of the original proposal, the Cincinnati Reds themselves had committed to financing $10 million for a new proposed ballpark.

The Reds lease at Ed Smith stadium is scheduled to expire in 2009 – and though they have never explicitly made threats that they would leave Sarasota if they did not get a new stadium, the state of Arizona has made strong overtures in recent years. Again City Commissioner Dick Clapp (roll tape#3 o.q.” what they want to do”)

The city of Sarasota is seriously cutting back on its budget. In addition to the 9% state mandated rollback, the city had previously agreed to cut an additional 7% of their budget from a year ago – meaning 16% is scheduled to be cut.

If local government money cannot come up with the funds – and it is looking almost certain that they cannot – local officials are contemplating putting a referendum on the ballot next year, asking Sarasota citizens if they wish to tax themselves to insure the Reds stay in town.

City Commissioner Kelly Kirschner advocates that position – and says he believes the original $54 proposal wasn’t transparent enough (roll tape#3 o.q.”allow the people to decide”).

In April, the State began distributing funds to several Florida Cities who host Major League Spring Training teams. Legislation had been passed as a way of giving those cities a boost in helping to fund new parks, or significantly upgrade their current facilities.

However, that money will be returned to the state if a new park is not built within 4 years time.

With funding for a minor league ballpark put on hold, Sarasota City Commissioners are now concerned that their budget cuts to come to close to the bone. Commissioner Kelly Kirshcner resents Governor Charlie Crist’s comments that NO public safety positions are vulnerable do to property tax reductions (roll tape#5 o.q.”what we do with the Police Department”)

Calls to the Sarasota Interim City Manager, Peter Schneider and its head of sports facilities, Pat Calhoun were not returned. Both men are currently on vacation.

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