I’ve lived here in Dunedin, Florida, the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays for just over six years. I’ve been involved with a committee that works with the Jays as well as the City of Dunedin for over four years.
This week begins the first step to the “end of the road” on the project that has encompassed keeping the Toronto Blue Jays here in Dunedin as well as finding a way to build them a complex that would make them happy. Sometime in the next week or so, shovels will hit the ground at the training complex on Solon. Due to the impending construction, the Bobby Mattick Training complex is closed to the public for both major league and minor league spring training. Visitors to the area may be able to watch some training at the downtown stadium on days where the team is away and the Jays store is open-Monday through Friday 10-3 and Saturday 10-2.
Meanwhile, in downtown, the stadium will operate as per usual. You can see the Jays’ schedule HERE. Practically the day after the team goes north, the stadium will close to the public and the renovations to the stadium will begin.
Both the training complex as well as the stadium are following an aggressive construction schedule and are expected to be open for the 2020 season. (Barring delays for weather and/or hurricanes. Pray for a calm hurricane season.)
For those who are fans of the Dunedin Blue Jays, the Jays’ Florida State League Team, it is expected that they will be playing this summer in the former Phillies’ home, Jack Russell Stadium. Details on this should be finalized in the next week or so.
Below I am linking to articles that will show the plans for the stadium and complex as well as some of the articles I’ve done over the years dealing with trying to get the Jays to stay as well as the process of getting the finances in order:
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that while I am a Phillies fan, I have a big spot in my heart for the Toronto Blue Jays. When I moved to Florida, our new house was only three blocks from Florida Auto Exchange Stadium where the Jays play.
After settling in I was appointed by the mayor of Dunedin to the Dunedin Stadium Advisory Committee, a group of volunteer residents of Dunedin who work with the Jays and the City.
It’s been a project close to my heart, 4 years of work. (You can see my posts on the city council meeting HERE and HERE.)
Today, the Tampa Bay Times had an article of how well received the $81 million plan was received. The text of the article is below:
DUNEDIN — Nearly 150 people attended the city’s recent open house about the proposed $81 million project to upgrade the facilities used by the Toronto Blue Jays. During the Sept. 27 event — the first time the community was able to get a close look at the plans — attendees were encouraged to fill out comment cards.
Overall, the response was positive. Ninety-six percent of the 73 people who filled out a card answered yes when asked if they like the overall concept. When it came to architectural style options for the planned renovations to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, commenters could choose between a Key West theme, a retro theme and a Mediterranean theme. Forty-seven percent voted for Key West, 40 percent for retro, and 13 percent for Mediterranean. Suggestions, some of which are already part of the proposed plans, included a tiki car, berm viewing, a kid zone, group viewing areas, more and healthier food options, ways to keep cool and cup holders in seats. Some concerns were parking, noise levels, where the team will play during construction and shade. Blue Jays project a hit with Dunedin residents 10/13/16 [Last modified: Thursday, October 13, 2016 11:53am]
You can read the article complete with pictures HERE.
I voted for the Key West Style, it fits with the surrounding neighborhood and screams “you’re in Florida”.
Tuesday, the Dunedin City Council UNANIMOUSLY approved the applications to the county and state for their portion of the money needed for the project!
It’s the second step in a long journey, but it IS A STEP FORWARD.
It’s been a crazy couple of days. Monday night was the official presentation of the Blue Jays plan to stay in Dunedin. (You can read my post about that HERE.)
I’m not one to make public speeches and I’m terrified about speaking in public, but Monday night, I could not keep silent. I spoke up and explained why keeping the Blue Jays in Dunedin is so important to me. (If you want to see my speak, you can click HERE.)
I didn’t do anything except say what was in my heart…the applause startled me. I’ve never gotten applause before. What has happened since has been amazing. Jays President Mark Shapiro thanked me personally, members of City Council…random people I didn’t know before…this morning I even got a text message from another person that I never expected, just to say thank you.
I’m astounded and thankful.
While I usually write about the Phillies, it IS important to note that Mark Shapiro noted the Jays special relationship with the Phillies in Clearwater as part of what makes Dunedin special. So this isn’t just a “Jays” issue, it’s a spring training and Florida State League issue.
So as a fan of baseball in Pinellas County, let me just say this…
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 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:
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 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.
And now….the stadium! (insert trumpets blowing, angels singing)
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”.
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.
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.
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).
Now the fun part….
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.
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.