Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A New Stadium?

Saturday's editorial in the SHT discusses the continuing efforts to keep the Cincinnatti Reds in Sarasota for Spring Training.

Spring Training has a long history in Sarasota and there is much to be said for keeping this tradition alive.

Not everyone is happy with the idea of city and county dollars being used to support a new stadium.

The editorial says, in part:
City officials showed poor judgment by failing to fully consult the public earlier as they laid the groundwork for a new, second stadium. It's no wonder that the project lacks broad political consensus.

The city of Sarasota -- population 54,000 -- has relatively small financial shoulders and is expected to bear only about a sixth of stadium construction costs. Though the city could be on the hook if certain unanticipated expenses arise in the $54 million project, local officials worked to limit risks. Still, it wasn't reassuring to know that the lengthy pact with the Reds was undergoing frequent revisions just hours before it was approved. More time to digest the fine print -- and get more input from the city attorney -- would have been appreciated.

The proposed plan, while showing a way to reach an agreement that would keep major league baseball in Sarasota for many years to come, is lacking a bit.

In addition to the unfunded commercial portion of the plan, there has been no good explanation for requiring two stadiums across the street from each other. The answer that is given is that there are many events that cannot be currently scheduled because of the need to wait for the baseball schedules to be published (summer league). A question might be whether these are baseball events - requiring a baseball stadium, or would they be better served by a multi-purpose facility. Do baseball events justify two stadiums?

Given the current plan with two stadiums, another question is, since the Reds have indicated they need another practice field (and Ed Smith could serve as this field), why not refurbish Ed Smith to "todays stadium requirements" and build only a practice field? The only answer that seems to be given is that Ed Smith was built on a landfill and it is not known what is underneath the field or stands. Why not determine what the liabilities are?

The question of on-going operating costs have not been adequately explained. At one of the neighborhood workshops to address questions, Pat Calhoon indicated that Ed Smith currently costs about $400,000 per year to operate (government subsidy). He indicated that with a new stadium, Ed Smith operating cost would drop to about $250,000 and the new stadium would add another $400,000. Is this a realistic estimate?

While the effort to find a solution to the question of how to keep Spring Training in Sarasota has been great, the problem has been quite complex. Add in the deadline issue for state dollars and we have ended up with a proposed project that still has a lot of unanswered questions.

Hopefully the answer is not to give taxpayers an additional additional burden.

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