Sarasota County decides to fund stadium fixup02/13/08 Mitch E. Perry
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The debate over whether the Cincinnati Reds will continue to train in Sarasota Took another turn yesterday when Sarasota County Commissioners voted to offer $17.6-million toward the renovation of Ed Smith Stadium.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to allocate the money. One of those Commissioners, Paul Mercier, who previously said he would not fund the proposal, obviously had a change of heart.
Commissioner Nora Patterson also had a change of heart. She had previously favored using the half-cent bed tax for property tax cuts, but voted to help out the Reds.
That later changed, as there was an attempt to have the city and county of Sarasota pay for a new ballpark, but those plans were discarded last year.
After Sarasota citizens narrowly rejected a plan to provide up to $16-million in city property taxes for a ballpark, the Reds announced they would begin looking for another city to play Spring Training games when their lease ends in 2009.
Two weeks ago, the City Council in Goodyear, AZ, approved an agreement locking the city and the Reds into exclusive negotiations for 75 days.
Mercier said the vote Tuesday was a statement for Spring Training baseball, not necessarily for the Reds.
Patterson said what turned the tide for her was hearing local business owners say how much they’d be hurt by tourists and others not spending money in March to attend Reds Spring Training games.
The $41-million renovation of Ed Smith would be paid for by four entities – nearly $7-million from the city, $8-million from the state, with the Reds coming up with $9-million.
Public funding for private sports teams has always been controversial, and with city and county budgets being reduced because of property tax cuts, Sarasota officials have been caught between playing hardball with the Reds, and keeping Spring Training baseball alive in the area.
John Allen, the Reds former chief operating officer leading the spring training’s talks, told today’s Sarasota Herald Tribune that the county’s vote may be too late. He said “We’re in this exclusive negotiating period right now, and I really can’t comment beyond that.”