Meeting could decide whether Red Sox come to Sarasota

07/07/08 Mitch E. Perry
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The move by Sarasota public officials to woo the Boston Red Sox could face a decisive moment next week when the board members of the Sarasota County Agricultural Fair Association meet about a potential land swap.

Sarasota city and county officials want to acquire 66 acres the Fair Board owns for a potential stadium. The land is at Fruitvale Road and Tuttle Avenue. The question is what the Fair Board thinks is an equitable tradeoff.

The Red Sox currently conduct spring training in Fort Myers. Although their lease with Lee County runs through 2019, a clause in their contract allows for an out after next season.

Sarasota City Commissioner Kelly Kirschner is driving the effort to bring the Sox to town. He says the time to present a plan to the defending world champions is needed soon.

The Red Sox last week denied a report that the team had imposed an August deadline for negotiations with city officials about moving spring training operations to Sarasota. Nevertheless, Sarasota officials are probably on a time clock.

The question is what would be an acceptable land swap for the 66 acres of prime real estate the Fair currently owns. Kirshner said there are no specifics, but she says the city and county can only give up so much.

There appear to be as many different opinions about what’s an acceptable tradeoff as there are members on the Fair Board – of which there are more than 20 members. One of them is Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who says it’s disheartening to hear people criticize proposals that have yet to be formally introduced.

Local officials have acted expeditiously after the Cincinnati Reds declared that they would leave Sarasota after the 2009 season to move to Goodyear, Arizona.

In addition to the Fair Board Meeting scheduled for next week, an economic impact report is scheduled to be released within the next month that would assess the value of the Red Sox in the community.

Some local officials have criticized the Fair Board, who historically have been hesitant to swap land when other proposals have come down the pike over the years.

But Sarasota County Commissioner John Thaxton says the Fair Board has gotten a bad rap in the local Sarasota media.

There is no question that the Red Sox are leveraging Sarasota and Lee County for the best deal.

The Fort Meyers News-Press reported yesterday that Red Sox and Lee County officials could see tentative plans from an architect as early as today for either an expanded or new spring training facility for baseball team.

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