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Clearwater accepts gift of land for stadium

The 32-acre offering from St. Petersburg Junior College could be the site of a new spring training home for the Philadelphia Phillies.

By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


CLEARWATER -- The City Commission on Thursday took significant steps toward building the Philadelphia Phillies a new spring training stadium just north of Drew Street, a block west of U.S. 19.

Without debate, commissioners accepted the gift of 32 acres of land from St. Petersburg Junior College, the site of an old county landfill, as a potential location for the proposed $20-million stadium. The city currently manages programs using three soccer fields and two baseball fields on the site.

With the vote, the city has 60 days to perform extensive soil tests to determine if the land is polluted with hazardous chemicals. If it costs more than $500,000 to clean up the area, Clearwater can give the land back to SPJC. Otherwise, the city must keep it.

Commissioners also approved spending $100,000 for traffic studies and to hire a Holland & Knight lawyer to negotiate a long-term lease with the Phillies for a new stadium. The city has to meet an Oct. 1 deadline to hammer out the lease terms in order to seek state funding for the proposed stadium.

The money also will pay for traffic studies to show if the proposed stadium would jam Drew Street. To fund the stadium expenses, city officials used money that had been budgeted to fund a local homeless shelter. City officials promised they would try to find funding for the shelter elsewhere.

Commissioners postponed a vote on a resolution to apply for up to $15-million in state funding over 30 years to build the stadium.

Mayor Brian Aungst said the city would set public hearings Aug. 1 and 3 before deciding the issue. Also, Pinellas County officials have told the city it needs to rework the wording in the resolution before the city votes on it.

The state funds would be used to finance borrowing up to $7-million to build the stadium, plus paying back the interest on the money. The city also intends to ask Pinellas County for a contribution of $7-million for the stadium.

Clearwater is responsible for providing another $7-million for the deal.

Clearwater officials have discussed capping the city's cash contribution at about $2-million, with the rest of the money coming from deals with the Phillies and selling corporate naming rights to the proposed stadium.

Clearwater does not have money for the stadium in its budget, so commissioners will have to discuss shuffling other projects around later this fall.

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