There are still plenty of questions when it comes to the Toronto Blue Jays’ future in Dunedin, Fla., but there is reason for optimism that the club’s spring training operations will stay put, according to St. Petersburg city councillor Charlie Gerdes.
“I think there’s very broad support, especially from elected leadership, for keeping the Blue Jays where they’ve always been for spring training. None of us wants to lose them,” Gerdes told The Jeff Blair Show on Thursday. Dunedin and St. Petersburg are both part of Pinellas County. “The stadium needs to be renovated, brought up to today’s standards. The training facility, same thing.”
As Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported last month, president and CEO Mark Shapiro and the Blue Jays received approval from the city of Dunedin in September to seek funding from the county for a massive upgrade on the club’s spring training facilities.
The $81-million deal would fund a full renovation of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and a complete rebuild of Bobby Mattick Training Center, solidifying the spring training union between the Florida city and the MLB team for another 25 years.
Of that $81 million, a proposed $46 million would come from Pinellas County, with the Blue Jays contributing approximately $15.7 million. About $13.6 million would be funded by the state, and $5.6 million by the city.
On Wednesday, Shapiro met with county and city officials (including Gerdes) in Pinellas County to further discuss the club’s renovation proposal and the city and state funding to back it.
“I think the political environment in the state of Florida right now, these kinds of deals are demanding much higher scrutiny in terms of the financial terms and that’s probably the biggest reason for it taking longer than any of us would like,” Gerdes explained. “But I predict that the Blue Jays will stay and the stadium will be renovated and the training facilities will be updated, and the Blue Jays and Dunedin will be proud to be partners for a long time in the future.”
In his conversation with Blair, Gerdes insisted the relationship between between the Blue Jays and the county is special, and worth keeping.
“That relationship, that partnership is hugely important for Pinellas County,” he said. “It’s said over and over again that those spring training games are broadcast back up to Canada. The media exposure for Pinellas County is priceless.”
If Shapiro does opt to relocate the Blue Jays’ spring training operation, it wouldn’t be his first time. During his time with the Cleveland Indians, Shapiro successfully moved that franchise's spring training operations to Arizona — an increasingly popular spring training designation of late.
The Blue Jays have called Dunedin their spring training home since the franchise's inception in 1977.
“We want them to stay,” Gerdes said. “But folks have to understand that the way Florida’s legislature is set up right now, accountability and transparency is very important — and it’s important not just for this specific issue, but it’s important for the future.”
No architectural drawings have been created, with the project still in the conceptual stage as funding continues to be negotiated.
“I hope Mr. Shapiro understands that the reason for the questions and the reasons for the scrutiny is not that anybody is opposed, it’s that the scrutiny is just, you know, they’re under a microscope right now and we just need to check the boxes and make sure that the investment decisions are supportable, justifiable, and that the taxpayers can feel like their money is being used well," Gerdes said. "And I think in this instance, it will be. We just have to go through the process.”