By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
The baseball team will use money from the tourist tax to pay for the 500- to 600-seat expansion in rightfield.
TAMPA - Fans of the New York Yankees may have a better chance in the not-so-distant future of scoring tickets to spring training games played at Legends Field, which have all sold out in 11 years of play there.
The Yankees won preliminary approval Monday from the Tampa Sports Authority to add open seating for 500 to 600 people in rightfield. The team hopes to complete work no later than spring 2008.
"There's so many fans wanting to see the Yankees and we're turning away hundreds of them," said Howard Grosswirth, the Yankees marketing vice president who presented the proposal.
The unveiling of the expansion plan comes less than two weeks after Hillsborough County commissioners authorized giving the Yankees $7.5-million in tourist tax dollars. It was part of a package of giveaways commissioners approved to spend nearly $100-million in tourist taxes for debt financing of renovations at Tampa's three main sports complexes.
The county owns all three arenas - the other two are Raymond James Stadium and Legends Field. The Sports Authority has titular oversight responsibility for Legends Field.
Grosswirth said the proposal has been in the works for a few years and that the timing is coincidental to the commission funding, which he said the team did not request. A rendering he showed the Sports Authority was dated 2005.
Still, he said the Yankees will use the tourist tax money for the expansion. He did not have a cost estimate. The Yankees would pay for the work and seek approval from the county, which would reimburse the team.
The proposal calls for adding a six-level open seating area in rightfield, behind the home team's bullpen and over an existing holding pond, near where the pedestrian bridge from Dale Mabry Highway empties.
Patrons would sit at picnic-style tables. Additional food and beverage vendor space, as well as restrooms, would be added.
The team plans to let fans enter the seating area from near the pedestrian bridge, though they would also be able to get there from other gates.
Grosswirth said a 1996 study by the University of South Florida showed that half of the people who attend spring training games come from outside the Tampa Bay region.