Mets Spring Training 2013: St. Lucie officials mulling how to fund more spring training baseball

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Finding a cost is simple. Determining how to pay the bill can be hard.

Now that St. Lucie County commissioners have a $60 million estimate of the price for adding a second Major League Baseball team to join the New York Mets at Tradition Field, the immediate question is how and whether to write the check.

County officials still are sorting through the data and have not analyzed the options to pay for stadium renovations, County Administrator Faye Outlaw said Friday.

"At some point at the local level, we will get together and start looking at what are the potential options on the county's side," Outlaw said. "It's just really too early on to say what those options would be."

The University of Michigan, which did a study to give the county an estimate, has some thoughts. But all come with potential pitfalls.

Under the study's best scenario, the annual payment would be more than $3.4 million if the county got a 30-year bond term at a 4 percent interest rate.

Officials are not suggesting one option can cover the entire amount. Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky Thursday said it would have to be done without general funds.

The first option — have the state kick in some cash. The state has provided money in the past, but that dedicated resource has dried up, and so some state officials are starting to figure out options for paying to keep spring training facilities in Florida.

In 2000 and 2006, the state certified various counties as spring training hosts and gave them each between $7 million and $15 million to improve spring training facilities, according to the Michigan study.

If the county got $15 million, the county could spread that out at $500,000 a year for 30 years and make a dent in the proposed $3.4 million annual payment. But the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays — teams currently negotiating leases or looking to move — are all Florida teams. So the state would have to authorize giving St. Lucie County money to bring a team to Port St. Lucie from an existing Florida community.

Another revenue stream could be tourism development taxes, money collected on hotel stays. But there are problems with that idea, as well.

St. Lucie County already dedicates about 3.67 cents of its 5-cent tourism development tax for the Mets. Another cent goes to promote tourism, and the remainder has been dedicated to capital projects north of Midway Road. Rate maximums throughout Florida differ depending on a county's size and other factors. But upping St. Lucie County's rate would require the state to change the law, County Attorney Dan McIntyre said.

Even so, using current collections, the county could reasonably expect about $500,000 in extra annual dollars if it could add another penny to the tax.

The University of Michigan study suggests adding another team would increase collections by another $370,000 per year, but even at that rate, the state and local tourism contributions would cover about 40 percent of the projected annual debt service, leaving the county with about $2 million in annual costs. If the University of Michigan study is overly rosy, that annual excess payment would be greater.

Another possible option is to use sales tax dollars, which extends beyond using tax dollars from visitors into using tax dollars from county residents, who pay the majority in area sales taxes. The county and cities get a portion of sales tax dollars currently, but the county has its dollars dedicated to various bonds, said Jennifer Hill, the county's budget manager.

Any additional dollars from sales tax must be approved through voter referendum, and though those could specifically be allocated toward infrastructure, Hill said she did not know offhand whether those dollars could go toward stadium improvements.

All of those options, however, assume that the $60 million figure cannot be cut. County Commissioner Tod Mowery said he has not fully digested the study, but he wondered if the facility would need a $16.6 million 200-bed dormitory.

"Personally, off the cuff, I have concerns about what exactly they were considering necessary for that and whether or not all of those components would be something that would be vital to the success of a two-team stadium here," Mowery said.

What can $60 million buy?

The University of Michigan's study on spring training costs, done on behalf of St. Lucie County, indicated adding a second Major League Baseball team to Tradition Field would cost just under $60 million. Here's how that money would be spent:

Player academy with 200 beds: $16.6 million

Soft costs: $6.9 million

Site development improvements: $6.55 million

Program contingency: $4.6 million

New minor league/player development clubhouse: $4.5 million

New practice fields: $4.25 million

Major League clubhouse: $3.5 million

Design contingency: $2.5 million

Clubhouse movable furniture/equipment: $2.5 million

New enclosed

batting cages: $1.5 million

Stadium improvements: $1.5 million

Hydro Therapy pool/hot tubs and other wet therapy: $1.25 million

New cloverleaf building: $750,000

Video coaching equipment: $500,000

Training room equipment: $500,000

Practice equipment: $450,000

Security system: $385,000

Maintenance equipment: $300,000

Telephone equipment: $300,000

Major League secure player/staff parking lot: $250,000

Mets parking and infrastructure improvements: $150,000

TV brackets/installations: $125,000

Total: $59.9 million

 

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