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Senate panel okays bill for ballparks

The measure would make money available for stadium improvements.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida cities that host spring training for Major League Baseball teams could win as much as $7-million in state money to renovate or replace aging ballparks under a bill a Senate committee unanimously approved Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, is intended to encourage teams that spend February and March in Florida to continue doing so, and to resist offers to move to newer facilities in Texas and Arizona.

Teams that have been in Florida the longest would get first consideration for the money. That would put the Philadelphia Phillies, who have held spring training in Clearwater for 54 years, at the top of the list.

Representatives from the Phillies and the cities of Clearwater and Dunedin, the springtime home of the Toronto Blue Jays, told the Senate committee that baseball spring training brings $227-million to the Tampa Bay economy each year.

Nine teams, including the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in St. Petersburg and the New York Yankees in Tampa, train in or near Tampa Bay. Twenty teams have spring training in Florida.

John Timberlake, director of Florida operations for the Phillies, said his team wants to stay in Clearwater -- but in a new stadium, which could cost $15-million to $20-million.

"We have a beautiful old ballpark, don't get me wrong," Timberlake said. "We love it." But Timberlake said the team has outgrown the facility, which lacks modern stadium features such as "sky boxes."

To get the state money, local governments first would have to raise millions on their own. The state would match local money, up to about $7-million. Most teams likely would ask for less.

Keith Ashby, government services administrator for Clearwater, said he was confident the city, and Pinellas County, would raise enough money to get the maximum amount of state funds possible.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who last year vetoed $7.5-million to help Vero Beach keep the Los Angeles Dodgers, has said this year he is more likely to approve legislation that benefits the entire state.

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