Pinellas prepares for new spring training pitch

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida - Most of the buzz at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings is about off-season player transactions. Butwhen league executives get together, another one of their major priorities -- stadium-building -- is never far from the mind.

And the general consensus around the league's annual conference is that the Blue Jays are preparing to leave their spring training home in Dunedin for brighter pastures on the East Coast. State money, earmarked for spring training projects, has helped the Blue Jays toplan a newmega-stadium in Palm Beach Gardenswith the Houston Astros.

But Pinellas County Commissioners tell 10 News that the county is prepared to make a new pitch for a spring training team if the Blue Jays leave and another franchise expresses interest in moving. Both the Milwaukee Brewers, who train in Phoenix, and the Washington Nationals, who train in Viera, Fla., have spring training leases that expire in the next few years.

SEE ALSO:Brewers eye Dunedin as spring training home

Dunedin has expressed an interest in trying to keep the Blue Jays after their lease expires in 2017, and Pinellas County could spend available bed tax dollars to help keep the team. Matching dollars from the state could also be available for the effort.

But Pinellas County commissioners tell 10 News the idea has at least been mentioned that the county could potentiallyexpand Brighthouse Field in Clearwater, the spring training home of the Phillies, to accommodate a second team in the state-of-the-art facility.

During recent Tourist Development Council meetings, Pinellas County officials have estimated the existing bed tax could bond $100 million in projects after Tropicana Field debt is paid off in 2015. And because Pinellas County is considered a "high tourism" county (Hillsborough County is not), it can also raise its bed tax to six cents on the dollar, which would support an additional $100 million in projects.

However, many interests have lobbied for Pinellas' bed tax dollars in recent years. A new Clearwater aquarium, a BMX park, beach renourishment, and even a possible new Rays stadium could all limit how much money would be available for spring training.

But commissioners have made it clear their funding priorities are with the projects that puts "beds in heads," which mean beaches remain a top priority. But spring training, which brings tens of thousands of out-of-state baseball fans to Tampa Bay every year, isn't far behind.

Neither the Philadelphia Phillies nor the MilwaukeeBrewers would comment on Tuesday, but the Brewers told the Phoenix Business Journalrecently they were "reviewing all options."

The Brewers have indicated they could leave their Phoenix spring training home in 2015 if they don't get some desired ballpark improvements. But at one source close to the team tells 10 Newsa departure from Arizona is unlikely.

In the meantime, PinellasCounty Commissioners are preparing a January workshop todetermine their bed tax priorities and they've told the Rays that if a new Pinellas County stadiumremains a potential, they should be prepared to make their "ask" soon.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebookor follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of theStadium.

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