Bid to bring Red Sox to Sarasota appears dead

10/14/08 Mitch E. Perry
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After month of negotiations, the city and county of Sarasota announced in a joint press release this morning that negotiations with the Boston Red Sox to play their spring training games in town was over.

The news stunned some observers, including some County Commissioners.

Elsie Souza is with Citizens for Sox, a local activist group that was behind the effort to bring the Red Sox to Sarasota. She was angry about learning that the negotiations had apparently ended abruptly.

The Cincinnati Reds have one more spring remaining in Sarasota before they relocate to Goodyear, Arizona.

The Red Sox, who have trained in Fort Myers since 1993, have a lease with Lee County that runs through 2019. However, the lease contains an escape clause that would allow the team to leave as soon as the end of spring training 2009 by paying a $1 million fee.

Negotiations have been ongoing since the summer for an estimated $59 million stadium and spring training complex.

This afternoon, Deputy County Administrator Dave Bullock sat down with County Commissioners to describe how the negotiations broke down.

Commission Shannon Staub insisted that it wasn’t the county who ran away from the negotiations.

Several Commissioners said they were surprised by the press release.

Commissioner Nora Patterson questioned Souza when she said she was unhappy that the public sector wasn’t allowed to weigh in on the proposal. Did she want the citizens to vote on a referendum, she asked Souza?

Souza said she was enough of a realist to know that such a measure would never pass in such dire economic circumstances.

Citizen Millie Scott called for the county to revive the negotiations.

Commissioner Joe Barbetta said the deal fell apart because there were limitations on the penny of tourist tax money that was to have been allocated for the stadium.

Jeff Mielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority, which oversees the Fort Myers facility that has been the home of Red Sox spring training for 17 years, said he was glad the threat of Sarasota was past.

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