© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 2002
As our 26th season opens, the Blue Jays thank Pinellas County residents and welcome our fans to another March of spring training at Grant Field in Dunedin. We hope you will be proud of the newly renovated facilities. While the path to get here was a rocky one, the Jays have remained steadfast in our commitment to support the community and provide you with improved entertainment facilities.
Much has been made in the media of the difficulties surrounding the renovations. The Blue Jays chose not to enter the fray of commentary and have watched an avalanche of misconceptions from the sidelines. We take this opportunity to inform you of the facts.
Did you know that the Blue Jays' financial contribution to this project is approximately $6.3-million, more than triple that of Dunedin? Did you know that the value of Pinellas County's contribution is fully recompensed by the Jays and the facilities will ultimately cost Pinellas County nothing? Of the $14-million total budget, $7-million was contributed by state funds specifically earmarked for improvement of spring training facilities in Florida.
At the request of the county, the Jays agreed to reimburse the county's $3-million advance toward the project plus interest and financing costs (a total value of approximately $4.4-million) in marketing and advertising value to promote tourism in Florida.
Of the $4-million advanced by the city, $500,000 is financed by loans from the Jays and another $1.9-million is reimbursed by cash contributions from the Jays over the term of their license to play at the stadium. Another $500,000 from the $14-million in project funds goes back to the city for financing costs and future capital needs. The net cost of the project to the city is estimated to be approximately $2-million.
Did you know that the project includes public recreation facilities not used by the Jays? For its net investment of only about $2-million, the city receives a beautified stadium usable for city events, new Little League facilities at Fischer Field and expanded night-lit ball fields at Englebert Recreation Complex.
Did you know that the original construction bids for the project ranged from $13.7-million to $21.7-million? It is unfortunate that the city chose to budget only $12-million for a project that city and county officials later acknowledged was woefully underfunded. The real pinch came when the designs failed to comply with local wetlands laws and a second set of designs failed to comply with Major League Baseball regulations, resulting in project delays and cost overruns approaching $1.8-million for a budget insufficient to begin with.
To pay for these blunders, the city proposed to cut the meat off the bones of the project, eliminating such key project features as the building facade, grounds enhancements and a quality scoreboard. Is this how you would want your tax dollars spent? It was certainly not how we wanted our investment allocated.
And so the Jays hired its own consultants and worked for three months with the support of the project contractor and county officials to bring the project back on track. Facing costs at that time of about $16-million to pay for redesign and wetlands compliance impact costs, it was no small feat. But with contributions from all parties and a paring back of benefits originally promised to the Jays, the project team was able to present the city with a reduced-cost redesign and refinancing solution.
We believe the only outrageous demand we have tried to make is that the taxpayers of Dunedin and Pinellas County and our visiting fans get what they were originally promised. The Blue Jays remain a committed partner and resident of this community.
It is our hope that by clearing the air we can now close the book and bring baseball back to where it should be: not a tale of "greed," "demands" or high salaries, but a tale of the promise of springtime, the warm days of summer, scent of leather, aroma of hot dogs and the green fields of the diamond. Now, let's play ball.
-- Paul V. Godfrey, president and CEO, Lisa M. Novak, senior vice president of business affairs Rogers Blue Jays Baseball Club
The preceding Blue Jays letter submitted to the St. Petersburg Times for publication appears to be in response to citizen letters to the editor. The City Commission and city staff have not previously submitted letters to the editor on these subjects.
The city sees no useful purpose in continuing the negative publicity surrounding the Blue Jays project, as reflected in this letter from the Blue Jays.
Although the city staff has substantial disagreement with the conclusions in the Blue Jays letter, we see no value in a point-by-point refutation.
It is the city's goal to promote a positive relationship between the city of Dunedin and the Toronto Blue Jays. Further negative statements would run counter to this goal.
The city, which worked hard in the public interest and in good faith to make this project a success for all involved, looks forward to a successful partnership for the next 15 years.
-- Tom Anderson, mayor of Dunedin; John Hubbard, Dunedin city attorney
As a graduating senior at Tarpon Springs High School, I would like to applaud Pinellas County schools superintendent Howard Hinesley's decision to reconsider the transfer of our principal, John Nicely.
There's been a lot of talk on our campus about faults in "the system," specifically how it's apparently inflexible regardless of circumstances or intentions. For recently disillusioned students such as myself, it's reassuring to discover that "the system" does, in fact, have a heart; it's also nice to know that following rules and regulations to the letter doesn't always have to take precedence over doing the right thing.
-- Brenden McAvey, Tarpon Springs
No, it's not Welcome Back Kotter! It's Welcome Back Mr. Nicely! How sweet it is!
Good for the staff, parents and students of Tarpon Springs High School. It was great seeing them come out and support a fine man and excellent principal. As parents of former Tarpon Springs High School students, we are very pleased to see Mr. Nicely back where he belongs. He will now have the opportunity to finish this school year at his home away from home. Yes, welcome back, Mr. Nicely!
-- Marilyn and Elliot Satinoff, Palm Harbor
After I was in Naples on business, you can imagine my surprise when I returned home to find that the county had come through the section of the Pinellas Trail that my house backs up to and cut down all of the shrubbery that had shielded me from the noise and view of Douglas Avenue.
My wife and I have lived here since pretrail 1988 and have experienced all of the benefits of trail living. I wish you, too, could enjoy the sounds of our lovely future leaders playfully shouting expletives or bouncing rocks off of my outdoor lights and house. Imagine how useful you would have felt if you had been around that Sunday morning to help that small woman who had been hit with a stick and robbed. Or perhaps last night, you would have been able to run the punks off who stayed after dark and cursed and shouted at each other until my wife called the police, twice.
Another fact of life here is that if you leave anything in the yard -- and we have lost flowers, statues, bikes, toys, etc. -- it will be gone. We have also had people stop, climb the fence, sit in our chairs and throw beer cans and trash in the yard.
I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that if the county has money to spend on the trail, perhaps they should spend it on security, and not making things harder for the residents who border it. My backyard view now consists of a chicken-wire fence, some duplexes, three sheds, Douglas Avenue and countless headlights driving down the cul de sac on the other side of the trail.
Every time I read that the county needs more money, my first reaction is that the county needs less dependence on people who work here to build their resume, more common sense, more fiscal responsibility -- heck, let's just go back to common sense.
-- Wayne Woodmansee, Clearwater