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    Phillies to get new stadium, new deal

    The City Commission agrees to help pay more of the team's costs and build a new ballpark. Still to be settled is the site of the new facility.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- To keep the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training operations here for at least 20 more years, the City Commission on Tuesday agreed to build a plush new baseball stadium and shoulder more of the team's costs.

    At a special meeting Tuesday morning, the City Commission voted unanimously to sign a "use agreement" with the team that commits the Phillies to remain here until at least 2023.

    Where exactly the new stadium will be built is still unclear.

    The city had to go ahead and sign the lease agreement in order to meet a state deadline to receive about $7-million in state funding to help pay for the stadium.

    The preferred site is an old county landfill northwest of Drew Street and U.S. 19.

    Testing of the land continues to ensure it is an appropriate stadium site, said Keith Ashby, the city administrator charged with overseeing the new stadium.

    If the testing reveals problems, the second option is at Carpenter Field, near U.S. 19 north of Drew Street, where the team already practices.

    The Phillies currently lease Jack Russell Stadium near downtown Clearwater from the city, but their lease expires in 2004.

    The new deal is expected to more than double the city's costs to maintain both Phillies facilities in Clearwater, bringing the city's annual expenses for the team to about $729,300, according to city estimates.

    But the city hopes to receive some revenue from special events and modest rents from the new facilities.

    With those funds, Clearwater may reduce its net expenses to $330,300 yearly for the team, by the city's analysis.

    City officials insist they got a great deal.

    "I think (the Phillies) have stepped up and come forward with an agreement that's suitable for everyone," said Mayor Brian Aungst. "It shows their good faith."

    Commissioner Bob Clark agreed.

    "I feel good about it," said Clark, who has been a big Phillies booster all year. "A businessman looks at the bottom line, and in the grand scheme of things, the increase in what we're paying is not much."

    Beyond the annual costs, city officials noted, the Phillies have committed to spend at least $3-million to build the new $22-million stadium, while the city has budgeted up to $5.7-million so far for it.

    The rest of the funding will come from the state and county.

    The new stadium agreement will begin in January 2003, or whenever the new stadium is built.

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