DUNEDIN — Just as the Toronto Blue Jays appeared ready to leave their Dunedin spring training site, uncertainty about a potential East Coast destination has clouded their path and left the city unsure about the future.
In Palm Beach Gardens, discussions on a new Houston Astros-Blue Jays park complex have hit a snag, due to loud opposition from residents in the surrounding area.
“It’s a relatively high-end area of golf course type communities,” Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman said. “Concerns have been raised, including traffic, light and noise.”
While the proposal isn’t completely off the table, Palm Beach Gardens last month asked the county to look at other sites, namely three in West Palm Beach. But the search for 100 acres suited for a spring training facility may go beyond county lines.
Weisman said he hopes neighboring St. Lucie County will try to recruit the teams, which could help secure spring training in the region after half of its Major League Baseball teams have relocated to Arizona in recent years.
Blue Jays officials said last spring they were dissatisfied with the size of Dunedin’s facility and the distance between its practice fields and the stadium. They hinted they would seek a state-of-the-art, two-team facility, and signed a letter of intent to join the Houston Astros in Palm Beach Gardens. The team has trained in Dunedin since its inception in 1977.
Dunedin began to consider other teams, including the Milwaukee Brewers, who currently train in Arizona, but still has a legal obligation to the Blue Jays, including two five-year options that could extend the contract beyond 2017 if the team chooses. The city can’t negotiate with another team until the Blue Jays have committed to a move.
“Unless and until they let us out of the options, which I think they would once they knew what they’re doing, they’re in the driver’s seat,” Dunedin Parks and Recreation Director Vince Gizzi said.
The city will continue looking for other prospects, he said, but the priority is to keep the Blue Jays.
“If the Blue Jays do leave, I’m sure there are going to be lots and lots of discussions on whether or not to stay in the baseball business,” Gizzi said.
Talk of a Palm Beach Gardens spring training park had moved quickly as government leaders on the East Coast tried to recruit more teams to prevent an exodus of those already training there. The Washington Nationals announced they are leaving their Brevard County facility in Viera. And with fewer than four spring training teams in the region, the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals would be allowed to leave Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, which they share. That would leave southeast Florida with only the New York Mets, whose contract to play in St. Lucie County expires in 2018.
Toronto Blue Jays manager Paul Beeston was unavailable for comment Wednesday. The Astros, whose lease at their Kissimmee facility expires in 2016, are keeping their options open.
“We’ll keep an open mind,” said Giles Kibbe, an attorney for the team. “There are certain criteria that have to be met.”
St. Lucie County, meanwhile, hasn’t seriously considered a new stadium.
“I don’t know if we have any current open county land that would be suitable for a stadium,” said county spokesman Eric Gill.
Last year, the county looked at expanding Tradition Field, where the New York Mets train, into a two-team facility, a project with a less-than-appealing estimated price tag of $60 million. Even if that were to happen, it is unclear which team would move there for spring training.