On Tuesday, the city of Clearwater sent a letter to Pinellas County, asking it to help pay for renovations at Spectrum Field. The stadium is Home to the Philadelphia Phillies during spring training and the minor-league Threshers during the off-season.
When it opened its doors in 2004, Spectrum Field was considered a first-class facility, built at a cost of $34 million. Now, the city of Clearwater is asking for funds on behalf of the team, to renovate the stadium at a cost of nearly $80 million.
“It’s a lot of money,” Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos conceded, but the mayor also insists with an estimated economic impact of $121-million a year, it’s worth every penny.
The city is asking Pinellas County for $40 million dollars in tourism development funds.
In addition, they would need another $14 million from the state, and an estimated $16 million in sales tax generated by Penny for Pinellas.
“It is not just paint and bricks,” said Mayor Cretekos. “It is the stadium yes, but it’s also the training facilities that will be used year-round.”
Phillies fans like Bruce Harner, who was buying tickets to one of the minor league games says that’s just what it takes these days for cities to play in the big leagues.
“Well, if they are going to keep the team here and want the economic value of it they better do it,” said Harner.
But the timing has others crying foul.
Clearwater is already raising residents’ property taxes to offset a budget shortfall.
Also, the city’s $55 million downtown waterfront redevelopment project is only about 10% paid for, and there are lots of people who think if the city is going to spend millions, that should be the priority.
“For consumers like myself and people in Clearwater, it’s maybe not as high on the priority list as it is to the team, said Phillies Fan Leslie Mulder.
“The owners, they can afford to their own stadiums. They don’t really need our money. It’s corporate welfare,” added Clearwater resident Fred Roose.
City leaders say they understand the frustration, but Cretekos says tourism dollars can’t be spent to offset taxes, or on other pet projects.
“Those are two different parts of money that you have to deal with,” said Mayor Cretekos.
The Phillies have agreed to also throw in $10 million of their own money for the stadium renovations, and would cover any related expenses beyond the estimated $80 million price tag.
The idea still has a long way to go. Clearwater can’t even apply for the state grant unless Pinellas County decides to play ball.
The Phillies have been training in Clearwater since 1946. But, their current contract ends in 2023. If they get what they want, they’ve agreed to keep running the bases here for another 20 years beyond that.