Dunedin, Florida (News-Press) -- Lee County will contact the Toronto Blue Jays about their 12-monthsearch for a new spring training home with the goal of putting them invacant City of Palms Park, said Lee County Commission Chairman CecilPendergrass.
The Blue Jays, according toThe (Toronto)Globe and Mail newspaper, will spend the next year lookingat contingency plans, as their lease in Dunedin expires in 2017.
"We'vehad no discussions with the Blue Jays, but since this news has emerged,we will reach out to them to have a discussion on any possibilities forCity of Palms," interim Lee County Manager Doug Meurer said.
BlueJays President Paul Beeston and other team officials could not bereached for comment Wednesday. Beeston told The Globe and Mail in a"perfect world," the team would remain in Dunedin, the Blue Jays' homesince the team's first year, 1977.
"We'vebeen in Dunedin from the beginning, and it hasn't impeded us from beingsuccessful," Beeston told the Toronto paper. The Blue Jays have trainedon the same site longer than any other big-league team. "Having saidthat, it's not an ideal situation from the player-developmentperspective, with the separate complexes."
Havingseparate complexes would be what the Blue Jays would get were they toinherit the former spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.
Justas City of Palms Park sits 2.5 miles west of the minor league complex,both on Edison Avenue, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium sits 3.5 miles fromthe Blue Jays' minor league complex in Dunedin.
"Iwas discouraged to learn that where they are now, they have to drivebetween their major and minor league facilities, and they don't likedoing that," Commissioner Frank Mann said of the 5,509-seat FloridaAuto Exchange Stadium, the second-smallest spring training venue in themajor leagues. "Here, we're stuck with the same issue. It's only acouple of miles, but it seems to be a problem. But we would love to talkto them. And our lines of communication are still open with theNationals."
Lee,which has assumed control of City of Palms Park from Fort Myers, hasbeen courting new tenants for the 8,000-seat stadium since agreeing tobuild the $80 million JetBlue Park in a 30-year lease agreement with theRed Sox that began last year.
The Washington Nationals and Lee have been negotiating, but the two sides have not spoken in recent weeks.
Pendergrasssaid he learned of the Toronto report Wednesday and within the hourhad talked to Meurer, urging him to contact the Blue Jays.
"It'sup to our staff to talk to them," Pendergrass said. "We have a facilityalready available and ready to go. We have a large fan base ofCanadians who are already here."
Leeattracted 147,076 Canadians who stayed in hotels or other paidaccommodations in 2011, an increase from 122,175 in 2010, according toinformation provided by the Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau.Two years ago, 34,331 Canadians paid for rooms in Lee in the spring.
From 2010 to 2011, Canada passed Germany as the largest supplier of foreign tourists to Lee County.
PinellasCounty, where Dunedin (as well as St. Petersburg) is located, attractedabout triple the annual number of Canadians when compared to Lee ,drawing 335,741 Canadians in 2012, including 117,694 in the springtraining months of February and March.
Thehigh number of Canadians did not translate to a boom at the Blue Jaysbox office. Toronto drew 77,108 fans last spring training. The MinnesotaTwins drew 117,503 at 8,100-capacity Hammond Stadium, and the Red Soxdrew 151,713 in the inaugural season at 9,900-capacity JetBlue Park.
"Ihope they do come down," said Lee County Commissioner John Manning, wholearned of the Toronto report from The News-Press. "I hope they don'task an exorbitant price to do it. We'd love to get somebody in thatpark, I'll tell you that. We're all ears at this point."
JeffMielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority, which istasked with luring sports tourism dollars to the area, was inTallahassee on Wednesday, in part to urge legislators to approve Gov.Rick Scott's bill to spend $5 million a year on spring trainingupgrades for teams threatening to leave Florida.
"Iwould be surprised if they looked at going anywhere else other thanDunedin because they have such a history there," Mielke said of the BlueJays. "They have a great Canadian market."