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Politics

Lawmakers' plan would move Blue Jays from Dunedin


Published:   |   Updated: April 23, 2013 at 01:50 PM

Legislators in Tallahassee signed off Monday on providing millions of dollars that could help the Toronto Blue Jays move spring training from Dunedin to Palm Beach Gardens.

Legislators working on a final round of budget negotiations agreed to spend $3.3 million a year starting in 2015 to help cities and counties to spruce up or build new ballparks and keep teams from relocating to Arizona.

The state would provide $50 million 37 years for stadiums housing to two teams. Ballparks with one team could qualify for $20 million over 30 years. Local governments would have to pitch in the rest of the cost.

This incentive is aimed at helping pay for a proposed stadium that would be used by the Blue Jays and Houston Astros in Palm Beach Gardens.

The Blue Jays informed Dunedin officials this year that they were considering relocating from Florida Auto Exchange Stadium after their lease expires in four years. The team's main complaint is that the practice facilities are about 3 miles from the stadium.

Dunedin officials voted to implement a “kick start” strategy this month aimed a keeping the Jays, who have trained in Dunedin since 1977.

The Blue Jays have retained a Tallahassee-based lobbyist who also represents the Astros, according to a state report.

The Astros' lease at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee ends in 2016.

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne and lead House negotiator on tax issues, defended the proposal as a way to keep teams in Florida. Six Grapefruit League teams have left for Arizona's Cactus league since 1998.

Spring training has become a huge economic draw for the state, and Gov. Rick Scott called on lawmakers this year to set aside $5 million a year in incentives to halt the exodus.

“Spring training does bring millions of tourists to our state in the off season,” Workman said. “They come stay in our hotels. They eat in our restaurants. It does have a significant impact.”

Workman said more and more Florida teams are looking to locate close to one another to lessen travel time.

The Palm Beach County site would reportedly be about 5 miles from Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, where the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals train.

Bringing two teams to Palm Beach is expected to solidify the state's east coast training base and help keep the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, about 40 miles north of Jupiter.

“You can't make your stars drive so far,” said Workman. “They needed to move, and unfortunately, we're not the only state that offers these things.”

This year marks the 125th anniversary of spring training in Florida. There are 15 teams training in the state.

The state already has spent more than $40 million in the past decade on spring training incentives, but the state put a cap on the amount of money and number of cities that could qualify for the funding.

It was initially unclear if the push for spring training money would collide with efforts by other sports team — including the Miami Dolphins — seeking state money for their stadiums.

The Florida Senate later this week will consider a bill that would force all pro teams to compete against each other for state money. But it's unclear if the House will go along with the proposal.

Workman said that despite what happens to the Dolphins legislation, it was important to reach a deal to help keep baseball teams from leaving the state.

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Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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