Sarasota County tries to woo Baltimore Orioles

11/18/08 Mitch E. Perry
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After striking out on a deal that might have brought the Boston Red Sox to Sarasota to play their spring training games, public officials now have their eyes on wooing the Baltimore Orioles to the area.

The Sarasota County Commission today approved a plan to continue discussions to potentially increase a tourist tax -- levied on hotel rooms and condo rentals up to six months -- to 4 percent from 3 percent, reserving half those revenues for a stadium project.

The tentative costs for a new park: $65 million.

Deputy Administrator Dave Bulloch told the Commission that in addition to a new park, the Orioles package includes something that the Red Sox could not: a youth baseball academy.

The two possible sites for a new park would be at the existing Ed Smith stadium or a county-owned youth athletic complex at 12th and Tuttle.

Currently, the Orioles train in Fort Lauderdale.

Another economic impact of the Orioles possibly moving to Sarasota County would be money spent on the Mid-Atlantic Sports network, the Orioles local radio and television network, which reaches more than 16 million viewers.

Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that part of the deal would allow for the equivalent of $2.3 million in advertising for the county on that network. She said that would be great for the county, because the channel broadcasts in both the Balitmore and Washington, D.C., markets.

Commissioner Joe Barbetta said that he hoped to get another economic impact report on what the Orioles would bring to the community. He questioned numbers used by advocates of bringing the team to town – such as one estimate that said they would bring $46 million to the region.

Barbetta said previous reports indicated the Red Sox, one of the biggest brands in baseball, would also bring in $46 million while the Cincinnati Reds, who plan on leaving Sarasota in a year, bring in close to just half that at $24 million.

Unlike negotiations with the Red Sox, who ultimately rejected Sarasota after getting new concessions from Lee County, he believes this time, the county has leverage with the Orioles.

Commmissioner Jon Thaxton said he was somewhat neutral on the impact of what spring training brings Sarasota, but was excited by the concept of a Baseball Academy, would could have the imprimateur of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken’s name attached to it.

The Commission will advertise for a public hearing on the matter, which could take place on Dec. 17.

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