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    A Times Editorial

    Jays, just look at Dunedin

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 2, 2001

    Once, there was a partnership between the city of Dunedin and the Toronto Blue Jays that was comfortable and beneficial to both sides.

    The Blue Jays got a pre-season spring workout in the Florida sunshine for their ballplayers, as well as a place for their minor league team to call home. Dunedin got any economic benefit that accrued from having a spring-training team, as well as the sunny, mom-and-apple-pie prospect of springtime baseball games at Grant Field for city residents and visitors.

    But that longtime relationship is being tested today, and for Dunedin, it is time to take stock of the benefits versus the costs of having a spring-training team.

    Late last year the Blue Jays and city officials signed an agreement that would keep the team in Dunedin for 15 years. In exchange, the city agreed to renovate and upgrade Grant Field, where the major league team plays its spring games, and build new facilities for the Jays at the city's Vanech complex.

    The agreement, which is more than 40 pages long, specifies that the improvements will cost no more than $12-million and that the money will be provided this way: $6-million from the state, $3-million from the county and the remaining $3-million split (unevenly) between Dunedin and the Blue Jays at the rate of $150,000 a year from the city and $125,000 a year from the Jays.

    Attached to the document is a list of improvements the two sides agreed would be part of the project: a new two-story clubhouse at Grant Field that would have laundry and dining facilities, a weight room, a video room, offices, indoor batting tunnels and locker rooms; new covered seating at Grant Field; and at the Vanech complex, five fields, a minor league clubhouse, an observation tower, indoor batting tunnels, a doctor's office and dining facilities, among other improvements.

    Sprinkled throughout the agreement are phrases intended to protect the city and therefore the public from unreasonable demands by the Blue Jays. Repeatedly, it notes that the project will cost no more than $12-million and that the city's obligation is for no more than $3-million. "The plans shall be modified by the parties, as necessary, to come within this budget amount," the agreement states. "Under no circumstances shall the city be required to exceed the maximum project budget amount."

    Why is it, then, that the City Commission felt compelled last week to commit an additional $500,000 and is having to plead with the county and state to provide $1.5-million more in a bid to satisfy the team?

    Well, that depends on whose story you believe.

    According to the Blue Jays, the city either made promises about the type of facilities it would build or should have known what type of construction was common and expected at baseball facilities. The Blue Jays say it isn't their fault that the city now has to find more money to deliver the product.

    City officials concede that they didn't have firm estimates of the work when they signed the agreement last year. But they say that some of the items the Blue Jays want were not promised by the city. Those items are not spelled out in either the agreement or a Request for Proposals that the city and Blue Jays co-authored.

    Take the issue of reception desks in the lobbies of the major and minor league clubhouses. The Blue Jays expected those desks to be custom-designed, built-in woodwork -- very fancy -- and that's what they want. The city had no such expectation and the documents don't specify those details.

    If the documents don't require Dunedin to build those kinds of extras, the Blue Jays should pay for them. But how are the negotiations on such issues going? Well, just look at which side had to come up with extra money. The Blue Jays, which already are contributing the smallest slice of the $12-million pie, have declined to contribute more and claim to be "maxed out."

    Dunedin has often expressed its support for baseball, and it scrambled last year to acquire the funds to build updated facilities for the Blue Jays. The city doesn't want to lose the team and already has encumbered almost $2-million on the project, and for those reasons it committed to an extra $500,000 last week.

    But Dunedin is a small town, and both its residents and city officials are conservative about spending: Witness the undersized, dysfunctional City Hall the city continues to use. Plush public facilities are not its style -- and should not be.

    It is time for the Blue Jays to consider the community they have had a relationship with for almost a quarter of a century, and modify their requests.

    Or, it is time for Dunedin to draw the line.

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