St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

SPJC offers land for Phillies stadium

The hitch is that Clearwater must test the site, an old landfill, for pollutants.

By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


CLEARWATER -- The city's negotiations to acquire land from St. Petersburg Junior College for a Philadelphia Phillies spring training stadium finally are in the late innings.

On Tuesday, SPJC's board of trustees voted to give about 33 acres just north of the school's Drew Street campus to Clearwater for a stadium site. The land, a former landfill with possible environmental cleanup issues, would be given "as is."

SPJC no longer needs the land, because it has moved most of its athletic programs to St. Petersburg and the property is already used by the city's recreation leagues for soccer.

"It was a gift from the public to us to begin with," said SPJC President Carl Kuttler. "Pinellas County gave the land to the School Board, which gave it to St. Petersburg Junior College."

And now the college wants to give it the city. The earliest that the Clearwater City Commission could debate acceptance of the land transfer is July 20.

If Clearwater takes the gift, the city would begin three to four weeks of environmental testing to make sure no expensive cleanup is needed at the defunct landfill, said Keith Ashby, a city administrator overseeing the Phillies stadium project.

Ashby is hopeful the old landfill, which operated in the '50s and '60s, will not contain any industrial toxic wastes requiring a major cleanup. But if contamination is a problem, the city will be able to halt the acquisition of the property from SPJC.

The kinds of tests the city will be allowed to do, which include drilling holes into the landfill, have been thoroughly debated by environmental attorneys for SPJC and the city for three months.

After multiple delays, a plan has been drafted recently that describes exactly how the city must do the landfill testing, said Susan Reiter, SPJC's director of facilities planning. Under the plan, the city will be required to clean up any excavated debris. Also, the city will have to avoid accidentally piercing a clay layer that lies beneath the refuse.

The city is on a tight schedule to apply for state funds to build a new Phillies spring training stadium by Oct. 1, Ashby said.

Clearwater says the cost of the stadium is $17.5-million to $20-million. Remember you heard it here: "We're not going past $20-million," City Manager Mike Roberto said Thursday.

The state, county and city would each fund a third of the costs.

Pinellas County's money would come from the tourist hotel bed tax, said County Administrator Fred Marquis. But county commissioners still must approve it, Marquis said.

Marquis has heard lots of ideas so far -- including a possible joint training complex that could have included the Toronto Blue Jays. (The idea never went anywhere, Roberto says.) But the county still needs a formal request from the city for stadium cash, about $6.6-million.

The city will try to budget $2-million in cash for the project, Roberto said, probably from the city's share of the Penny-for-Pinellas sales tax. City commissioners would be asked to revise the city's list of Penny projects this fall to come up with the money.

The remainder of the $4-million would have to come from corporate sponsorships and the Philadelphia Phillies organization, Roberto said. One way for the Phillies to contribute could be for the team to hire the architect for the stadium, Roberto said.

The Phillies already have paid Hellmuth, Obata+ Kassabaum Inc. or HOK to start developing "conceptual" designs that haven't yet been shown to the public. The HOK Sports Facilities Group, based in Kansas City, is well-known for designing landmark baseball stadiums such Camden Yards in Baltimore, as well as minor league facilities. HOK also designed Raymond James Stadium, Tropicana Field and Pro Player Stadium in Miami.

The other corporate cash could come from selling naming rights to the stadium, other concessions deals or from hawking corporate luxury suites, city officials say.

The deadline to have the stadium built is 2004, when the Phillies' lease for the city's Jack Russell Stadium expires.

As a secondary deal, SPJC's board also has agreed to allow the city to lease its Clearwater campus gymnasium at no cost for four years. The City Commission still must debate this deal, too.

Under the terms of the lease for the 5-acre gym facility and adjacent tennis courts, the city would pick up the tab for maintaining the facility. SPJC students would have to pay the same fees as city residents.

* * *

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.