Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Sarasota chases the dream in the fifth inning of the stadium game

Baseball sage Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” and his wisdom shows itself true in Sarasota’s seemingly endless pursuit of Red Sox spring training.

As reported in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Oct. 22:

“Lee County’s step forward came a week after Sarasota called off negotiations with the Red Sox because of a shortfall of up to $15 million. Sarasota officials are trying to raise $70 million for a stadium at Payne Park, six practice fields and two clubhouses.

Seven hours after they announced negotiations were over, county and city officials said they would continue talking to the team.

Next Wednesday, the Sarasota County Commission will hold a hearing to decide whether to raise its tourism tax, a big chunk of the $60 million in potential funding for a Red Sox stadium.”

The original news was that the deal was off, there was no way to raise the money with the seized-up credit markets, and taxpayer opposition was too stiff. But like Bill Compton, the vampire on HBO’s “True Blood,” some things can’t be killed. The effort to give the Red Sox a deal that will persuade them to move north from Fort Myers found new life.

Of course, Lee County isn’t exactly sitting back while all this is going on. The Red Sox are in the middle of a 20-year lease, but there is an economic incentive for them to pull out and move elsewhere.

The Red Sox are thrilled, no doubt, to see both areas, despite their stretched budgets and warnings of more cutbacks and layoffs to come in essential services, ripping their hair out trying to come up with funding formulas to get the Sox to come or stay.

Some people believe that the entire economic future of the Sarasota County region depends on getting the Red Sox, but as Herald-Tribune columnist Eric Ernst pointed out in the Oct. 22 paper:

“Studies that link professional sports teams to economic windfalls tend to be commissioned by the sports industry, which has a vested interest.

One somewhat humorous exception arose this year as the Seattle Supersonics basketball team tried to get out of its arena lease with the city.

‘The financial issue is simple, and the city’s analysts agree, there will be no net economic loss if the Sonics leave Seattle,’ the Sonics argued in a court brief, as reported by the Seattle Times on Jan. 18. ‘Entertainment dollars not spent on the Sonics will be spent on Seattle’s many other sports and entertainment options.’

If nothing else, the Sonics example should remind everyone to view pro sports’ economic value claims with more skepticism than some of Sarasota’s decision-makers have shown so far.”

Meanwhile, there was talk of a deal to bring Baltimore Orioles spring training to Sarasota and spend a few million to spruce up Ed Smith Stadium. The Orioles have been talking to Vero Beach and Indian River County since the Dodgers walked away from their 20-year deal that was reached in 2001 and decamped for Arizona.

But to most government officials in Sarasota, the thought of the Orioles coming to town is like getting vegetables during Halloween trick-or-treating. The big prize is the Red Sox, in their view, a team with a recent tradition of success, and the Orioles are just a bunch of orange birds.

So while all this is going on, the city of Bradenton and Manatee County have a deal with the Pirates. I wonder how long before the Pirates start making noises about leaving, and how much money they’ll demand to stay.

It’s all a part of the stadium game.

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October 23, 2008 - Posted by | The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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