In the words of Blue Jays President/CEO Mark Shapiro, the team has taken a big step forward with the unanimous approval of a new 25-year licensing deal with Dunedin by the Florida city’s council tonight.
The Blue Jays were represented by Director of Florida Operations Shelby Nelson and Legal Counsel Matthew Shuber. The approval guarantees funding for an $81 million replacement of the former Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, spring home of the Blue Jays, and a significant upgrade to the minor league complex. The complex was a huge part of the deal in the eyes of Shapiro, who feels that the new training and rehab facility will give the team a huge competitive advantage:
It’s shifting Dunedin away from just being a spring training site, where we prepare our players for the season, to a 365 days of the year, state-of-the-art training and rehabilitation centre, and a base for our US operations.
As the deal involved funding from local, county, and state governments, negotiations were some time tense, and the Blue Jays took their turn being grilled at council meetings at the higher levels. The bulk of the price tag ($46 million) will come from a 6% hotel bed tax collected by Pinellas County. The Blue Jays will kick in $20 million, while Dunedin will contribute about $6 million, and the state will match the city’s funds. The bidding process will probably take about six months, meaning shovels won’t be in the ground until April or May. The Florida State League’s Dunedin Blue Jays may be looking for other accommodations next season, depending on the pace of the upgrades.
The former FAES, which could charitably be described as quaint, will be razed, and the park will return to its orignal name, Grant Field, in honour of the family that donated the land for the stadium, according to a source close to the negotiations, although the Blue Jays have said that has not been determined. The minor league complex, now known as the Bobby Mattick Complex (after the long time Jays scout, executive, and one-time Manager), will revert to the Cecil P. Englebart Complex, its founding title. Again, this has not been confirmed by the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays and Dunedin have a lengthy history, going back to the team’s inception in 1977. Their set-up is less than ideal, with the stadium and minor league base about a ten-minute drive apart. While the team looked into other spring training sites in advance of the expiry of their deal earlier this year, Shapiro said that there really wasn’t a better site for the team than Dunedin.