Loading the Bases
Armed with new ammo, baseball teams are likely to step up their spring training stadium demands.
By Ken Ibold
The phenomenon of major league teams being able to win public funding for ever more elaborate stadiums and facilities appears to be rippling down through the state's spring training venues.
A new state grant program, combined with a recent study that pegs spring training as a half-billion-dollar industry in Florida, is likely to open the floodgates for a round of stadium improvements.
And with competition for spring training sites increasing from communities in Arizona and other Western states heating up, the teams' requests may seem increasingly like ultimatums.
Thanks to the grant program approved last session by the Florida Legislature, Indian River County will receive $500,000 a year for 30 years as part of a $19-million deal that will keep the Los Angeles Dodgers training in Vero Beach for at least 20 years.
The Dodgers had threatened to move their spring training to Las Vegas but will now get a new stadium as part of a deal that will include building a mini-town, complete with a hotel, conference center, apartments and restaurants.
The Phillies and Blue Jays will also be getting improved facilities in Clearwater and Dunedin thanks to a deal struck in mid-September.
Meanwhile, a study by the Florida Sports Foundation almost immediately started rumblings at Osceola County Stadium, the spring home of the Houston Astros. The study concluded that nearly 150,000 fans came to Florida specifically to attend spring training games in 2000. Each of those fans attended an average of 5.7 games and spent more than $90 a day for lodging, meals, tickets and souvenirs. Florida residents and visitors whose attendance at a game was incidental to their trip spent about $21 each at the stadium and $10 outside the stadium on game day.
Direct spending by baseball fans, the media, the teams, the stadiums and the concessionaires totaled more than $125 million a year, according to the study. Factor in the multipliers used by economists, and the economic impact soared to $490 million -- an average of $24.5 million per city.
The Astros are hoping the study will help them land better facilities from Osceola. Their lease expires after spring training next year, and per-game attendance in 2000 was 19th out of the 20 Grapefruit League teams.
"The Astros have indicated they want to stay, but at the same time there are some things here they'd like to see done," says Dan Miers, stadium director of Osceola County Stadium. "We've got to keep up with the Joneses" if we want the Astros here, he says.
The Astros' wish list includes a two-team complex, perhaps with the Texas Rangers, that would help boost attendance. The complex would cost about $30 million, half of which may be paid by the state and the other half by Osceola County.
In the News
Apopka -- Sawtek (Nasdaq-SAWS) said it would reinvest all of the profits from its Costa Rican production plant outside the U.S., thus saving federal income tax. The company also said it had completed construction on its second Costa Rican facility, a 30,000-sq.-ft. plant in San Jose.
Daytona Beach -- Halifax-Fish Community Health shut down its inpatient areas and the emergency room of Atlantic Medical Center-Daytona. Halifax, which purchased the Atlantic facility earlier this year, will turn it into a hospital for women, complete with alternative therapies such as massage and aromatherapy.
Kissimmee -- Winter Construction announced plans to raze the dilapidated, 85-year-old Braham Hotel downtown and replace it with a 10-story hotel that may carry the Marriott name. The company also proposes to renovate the historic theater next door to the hotel as part of the $16-million project.
Maitland -- Huntington Bancshares bought J. Rolfe Davis Insurance Agency of Maitland for an undisclosed amount, marking the first major insurance agency in the state that has come under bank ownership since Congress removed roadblocks last year.
Milcom Technologies has spun off another high-tech company, this one a software company called SoftMountain. SoftMountain is developing open architecture software applications that can be adapted to run on any operating system.
Melbourne -- Harris Corp. (NYSE-HRS) agreed to pay $134 million for the 80% of Bellevue, Wash.-based Wavtrace it didn't already own. Wavtrace is a wireless equipment manufacturer Harris hopes will help it become a bigger player in wireless communications systems.
GE Harris Energy Control Systems says it will build a $110-million expansion at Melbourne International Airport, completing the facility in late 2001 and adding 100 employees over the next four years.
Orlando -- Business incubator Central Florida Innovation Corp. has spun off its first company, Accseus. The company will be a for-profit version of CFIC, helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into successful companies.
A planned high-speed monorail linking Port Canaveral, Orlando International Airport and International Drive was officially pronounced dead when the company backing the $1.5-billion project failed to prove it had enough money. Florida Department of Transportation officials said a letter from an investor to Bee Line Monorail promising $15.45 million wasn't good enough; they wanted the money in the bank.
Law firm Gray, Harris & Robinson has merged with Shackleford, Farrior, Stallings and Evans P.A., an 18-lawyer Tampa law firm and seven lawyers from the Tallahassee office of Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell. Gray Harris managing partner Biff Marshall says more deals are on the way.
Agents from the FBI and the Florida Attorney General's anti-Medicaid fraud units raided the headquarters of RoTech Medical Corp. The company settled a federal lawsuit in 1997 over Medicaid reimbursements and was sued again in 1998 over the alleged practice of having medical suppliers pay doctors for referrals.
The Orlando area drew 42.6 million visitors in 1999, up 10% from the wildfire-ravaged totals of 1998, according to figures recently released by the Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau. International visitors accounted for 3.5% of the total, or about 1.5 million.
World Commerce Online, an Internet-based exchange for the floral and produce industries, filed a document with the Securities and Exchange Commission outlining a $5-million loan it says will keep it operating until at least February.
Universal Orlando says it will extend employee health insurance and other benefits to unmarried domestic partners who have lived with the employee for more than six months.
Florida Digital Network says its plans to merge with Cavalier Telephone of Richmond, Va., and Conversant Communications of Marlborough, Mass., fell apart when the companies were unable to raise the investment capital needed to integrate the companies.
Osceola County -- Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom will add a roller coaster and a spinning ride for kids by mid-2002. The rides will be added to the park's DinoLand U.S.A. area and will be part of a new section called Dino-Rama.
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