Scott proposes $5 million fund to keep baseball in Florida

twolfrum@bradenton.comFebruary 28, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The Pittsburgh Pirates aren't going anywhere anytime soon, but Gov. Rick Scott is hoping to establish a fund that will help cities like Bradenton keep their major league teams training in Florida.

The Pirates, who have trained in Bradenton since 1969, signed a 30-year lease with the city in 2008 for the use of McKechnie Field and Pirate City.

The team and city have teamed up for two major facility upgrades in the past six years to keep both sides happy.

Scott wants the state to spend $5 million annually to help Bradenton and other Florida cities meet the needs of major league teams.

"I think it's terrific that he's doing this because everybody knows Arizona is trying to recruit more teams," Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said during Wednesday's spring training game between the Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays at McKechnie Field. "Professional baseball is an economic development tool, which is why we negotiated a 30-year agreement (with the Pirates). ... We need to keep professional baseball in Florida so everyone doesn't leave, and it's just us."

Scott made the announcement Wednesday during a workday held at Joker Marchant Stadium, the Lakeland facility that is the spring training home for the American League champion Detroit Tigers. Under the initiative, local governments must match at least 50 percent of the improvement costs.

State legislators will have to

approve Scott's request.

"We must provide teams a predictable landscape, with an identified funding stream that allows local governments to make targeted investments to keep teams in their communities," Scott said.

On Thursday, the Pirates will play their fourth spring training game of the season in the newly renovated McKechnie Field. The $10 million project resulted in a 19,000-square-foot boardwalk around the outfield and a new set of bleachers in left field, among other improvements.

The Pirates paid $3 million toward the upgrades, and the public portion of the funding came from a tourist tax.

Before signing the new lease in 2008, the Pirates completed a $20 million upgrade to McKechnie Field and Pirate City. The upgrades included lights and a new visitor's clubhouse at McKechnie Field and new offices, dormitories, renovations to the minor league clubhouse and a fifth practice field at Pirate City.

A state fund similar to the one Scott proposed provided $9 million for that project.

"The Pirates are extremely pleased that the governor recognizes the economic value that the Florida clubs brings to the communities," Pirates President Frank Coonelly said, "and has the foresight to provide a reliable funding source to help clubs and local maintain first class facilities here in Florida.

"Each of the two major projects that we completed over the last six years was done primarily with local companies and local workers and resulted in other economic development in the community. ... The Pirates' relationship with Bradenton is an outstanding example of the type of win-win partnership that state resources can help replicate in other Florida communities."

This year marks the 125th anniversary of spring training in Florida. There are 15 Major League Baseball teams training in the state.

But the state has been in a battle in recent years to keep teams from relocating to Arizona.

Scott spent the day working with a grounds crew, handing out programs and selling concessions to baseball fans.

-- Herald sports writer John Lembo and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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