If you have read my blog for a while, you’ll know I was raised a Phillies fan. I can’t hide that…but it’s because of the Phillies that I found my forever home and also became a Blue Jays fan. How you ask? Before we lived here, we came down for years for Phillies spring training. We’d stay for a week or so in a hotel or rent a house for a month.
One year, the Phillies played the Blue Jays in Dunedin. We had never been there and used the GPS in my phone (this was somewhere around 2008 and the GPS in my Samsung Black Jack phone was not good) and it sent us to the practice complex on the north side of town. We looked up the stadium address and followed the GPS to downtown where we found parking and walked the five blocks down Douglas Ave to the stadium.
The town was beautiful. It’s quaint, a glimpse back in time. Little shops, then cute houses, then a place where houses were being developed, then a bar and then the stadium. The new houses were perfect, so perfect that we thought that it was a Disney-like display, so perfect no one could live there…but you could! Then we would only be a few blocks from a baseball stadium! It was that baseball game that changed our lives…while it would take a few years, we eventually built our home in Dunedin and we plan to live here the rest of our lives.
Soon after moving here, I was asked to become a member of the Dunedin Stadium Advisory Committee. I accepted and was officially appointed to the committee by the Mayor.
It’s been a nervous time. Two years ago, there was speculation that the Jays were going to move to West Palm Beach. It would devastate the local economy. I won’t go into the numbers deeply but spring training brings over 80 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR into Pinellas County. That’s hotels, rentals, food, everything. Granted, it’s not just the Blue Jays as the Phillies are here as well as the Yankees just across the causeway. It is attractive that there are three teams within an easy 15-20 minute drive. Bradenton, Sarasota and Lakeland are just an hour away and Disney and the new Braves Complex in Kissimmee, only 90 minutes away. That many family activities makes it a vacation destination where everyone in the family can find something to love.
There’s been a legal confidentially agreement in order since they started negotiations so there was nothing anyone outside the inner circle knew for sure (not even the stadium committee was in the circle). Last night was the first time that the public was given a look at what could be in the works. If you are interested in the nearly THREE HOUR presentation you can see it on the Dunedin City Government Website HERE.
The small city council room was packed. There was also seating provided outside on the patio with a TV for those who could not get in to monitor the situation.
The packed City Council Chamber at City Hall
The meeting began with the Director of Parks and Recreation going over the selection of the location/plan. One was to use the city par 3 golf course at Sterling Links…it is big enough to have a stadium and a training complex, BUT it’s in an area surrounded by homes. It was dismissed due to the difficulty of getting those homeowners to agree to itas well as other logistical factors.
A property half a mile from where the current stadium is was considered (known locally as the Nielson property where the former location of the Neilson Ratings headquarters was located) It was not owned by the City so it would have had to been purchased…but in the time since consideration began it was sold to a developer and is now unavailable.
The next location was next to the current stadium downtown. This was a possibility, except that the town library would need to be moved and a new library built. That would add an additional 10-12 MILLION dollars to the price of the project. This made it overly expensive.
The next location was to add a stadium at the Mattick complex (next to the current training complex on Solon). There were several problems with this location. It was next to a school and did not allow for enough parking for the stadium. It is also surrounded by homes and the roads leading to it are only two lanes. They could not be widened without taking land from homeowners. While the people living around the facility are used to having games there, adding 90 foot light towers in their back yard wasn’t deemed practical especially considering all of the other limitations.
This is where a compromise was made. The Jays would not have an “all in one” facility but they would have a modern training facility located at the Mattick facility and the down town stadium would be made into a “Game Day” facility. In this way, both facilities could be improved with as little disruption to the surrounding neighborhoods.
I was incredibly impressed that Blue Jays GM Mark Shapiro flew in for the meeting.
Shapiro talked about how the Jays are the ONLY team in MLB that has spent their entire history spring training in the same place. That’s FORTY YEARS! He spoke of the good partnership with the city as well as how their fans love coming to Dunedin.
Then Director of Florida Operations Shelby Nelson showed pictures of other spring training facilities and compared them to those in Dunedin. I’ll post the pictures side by side for your comparison:
Hydrotherapy for the Cubs, two soaking (hot/cold) “pools” for the major league team, two for the minor league teams and a therapy pool between. Dunedin’s two therapy “tubs” and the ice machine for ice baths.
The Cubs workout space, soaring ceilings, 2nd floor cardio and weights below. Dunedin’s weightroom with 9 foot ceilings and dark atmosphere.
San Diego’s locker room with it’s open gathering space and large lockers. Dunedin’s dark and divided locker room
With nutrition being a large part of an athlete’s life, the Twins have a nice cafeteria (to the right) and dining room. Dunedin’s food area below.
Even just a fan can see that the outside fan areas are in need of renovation, but frankly, even knowing some of the inner details of the problems with the stadium, I was shocked and embarrassed at the condition of the training facilities.
It was at this point that they gave us some PRELIMINARY renderings of what the new training complex might look like.
The Englebert Training Complex as it is today.
The Englebert Training Complex with expansion and new training facility in center (building 4).
The biggest sacrifice with the expansion is that 3 public soft ball fields will be lost/move to another location as will Happy Tails Dog Park. With the softball fields, it is hoped that the new location (yet undecided) will allow for a fourth field making it tournament caliber. Happy Tails Dog Park was built in a drainage area and is subject to frequent flooding and will have needed to be improved/relocated in any event.
The red circle indicates where the three softball fields would be removed for the expansion. the dog park is just to the north of the red circle.
And now….the stadium! (insert trumpets blowing, angels singing)
Current front view of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium
Left field side of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium
The right field side of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium
Before I want to post the pictures of the POSSIBLE improvements, it is important to remember that these are only suggestions, ideas, no contracts have been made to design anything. These are just possibilities suggested by world renowned stadium designers Populous. (google their work, it’s amazing). Also this is a MAJOR renovation not a demolition and rebuild. Many improvements will be made around the “old bones”.
Possible new front of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium-Including a new team store that has access to the public all year!
This is a nice option. as you can see there is a store with access separate from the stadium. Currently, the team store is only open during games and is situated under the stands and can only be accessed to people attending the game.
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Right field improvements
I like how the new party boxes look like beach cabanas. While their addition adds party space and a nice aesthetic, it isn’t overwhelming in scale. It fits the surrounding neighborhood of single story dwellings. A huge, Brighthouse-esque stadium would overwhelm and dominate the surrounding houses, library, school, VFW and senior center.
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Overhead view
This picture gives you an idea how land locked the stadium will be. those white “tube” looking things are wings of the Curtis Fundamental Elementary School. The building on the top just under the Jays logo is the library. I can’t believe that they were even able to ADD parking spaces. (Ok granted Baseball Ross and I usually WALK to games).
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium looking in from the outfield
Now the fun part….
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Overhead
Oh look! Berm seating in the outfield! A boardwalk! NEW VIDEO BOARD! SHADE! I repeat SHADE! Oh what’s that…a tiki bar! The amenities are great!
The Tampa Bay Times has a great flyover video HERE.
From there they went into the financial aspects…I’m not getting into that, you can read the details of the money HERE.
The timeline for completion is AGGRESSIVE with plans to be in the renovated facilities by opening day of spring training 2019. Think about that…grants have to be applied for, all the planning and construction contracts have to be open to public bidding. This is very aggressive. If they can keep to the suggested timelines it will be amazing.
Finally, they opened the floor up for public comment. Not one person objected. Members of the merchants’ association spoke, owners of the local Holiday Inn as well as other residents and finally…the Stadium Committee…Our Chairman spoke and before we all sat down…I sucked up my courage and asked to speak. I have a fear of public speaking and even just standing as a member of the committee I was worried I’d be sick…then I just couldn’t stand there and NOT say something.
Baseball Betsy Speaks!
I swallowed hard and told the story I recounted at the beginning of this blog, how it was because of Blue Jays baseball that I found my forever home. How after visiting just that one day, it changed my life and how we moved here. I guess it was a rather impassioned speech…and as I finished (without passing out or puking I might add) there was applause. I got applause.
ETA: If you are interested, here’s a link to my SPEECH.
The meeting ended and afterwords, GM Mark Shapiro made a point of shaking my hand and thanking me for speaking as did the Director of Florida Operations Shelby Nelson.
I just want to add for those of you you may not be familiar, the training facility is used 365 days a year and that the stadium not only is used for spring training but the Blue Jays also have a Florida State League team that plays there all season, another five to five and a half months. Three of the new fields at Mattick will also be able to be used by the public outside of spring training. The stadium also hosts events other than Jays baseball. It’s not just a lot of money that will be spent on a “gym, fields and a stadium” that will only be used one month a year. It’s very important that people know that.
So there we go. The ball is in motion. It seems that the majority if not all of the council and mayor are for the project. Now it’s up to the accountants…Nothing is set in stone but the best thing I took away from the meeting is that the city and the Jays want to work together. This is something that both sides will work for and hopefully we will all have our happy baseball ending.
I took all of the renderings from the power point presentation from last night’s meeting. I thank everyone involved in their creation. (There are additional pictures in the fly over article.)
Tonight is the second part of the presentation. At the senior center across the street from the stadium all of the people who gave presentations will be there in an informal setting where they can be approached and asked questions. I hope to be able to get some better pictures and more information.
It’s a long way from happening but I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not going to give up on the committee and will do what I can to help the project on track, even it it means just being a cheerleader at council meetings.