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Bradenton OKs $7.5 million loan for McKechnie Field

BRADENT0N -- A $7.5 million bank loan for improvements at McKechnie Field will be taken out by the city this month, the Bradenton City Council agreed Wednesday.

“The improvements are needed if we are going to have full-time baseball,” said Carl Callahan, the city’s treasurer and clerk.

Venerable McKechnie Field is the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the regular season home of the Single-A Bradenton Marauders. The Pirates, fresh off setting a Bradenton attendance record in 2011, start spring training Feb. 19 when pitchers and catchers hold their first workout at Pirate City.

Manatee County will provide up to $400,000 per year for 20 years to help the city pay the project’s debt, based on an interlocal agreement reached this week between the county and city, Callahan said. That money will come from the “bed tax” paid by tourists who stay at local hotels and resorts.

“This is so much more than an interlocal agreement,” Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie said during Wednesday’s city council meeting.

The project, he said, is an opportunity to improve the area’s quality of life, create jobs and revitalize local businesses.

Rick Sisto, owner of Ball Park Deli & Sub Shop just a block from the ballpark, said he favors investing in McKechnie only if it is used more widely by other members of the community.

He said his business has been on Ninth Street West for more than 22 years and foresees decline in the area if the stadium is not used year-round.

“Have more night games, let the high school or college use it,” Sisto said. “There are tons of other things to do with it.”

Mayor Wayne Poston and city council members said they hoped the improvements would make the field attractive for community events other than baseball.

“This is going to do great things for us,” said Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey.

Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida operations for the Pirates, said he is grateful for the county’s and city’s partnership with the team.

“Other teams are very envious,” he said. “Pirate City’s goal is to use the field year-round. It’s a community asset to use as much as possible.”

The Pirates’ first game spring training game this season at McKechnie Field is an intrasquad scrimmage March 2.

The county is requesting that, in its agreement with the Pirates, the city obligates the team to allow no fewer than seven days per calendar year in which the county and the city can hold events at no charge, according to county documents.

Manatee is also requiring that the Pirates spend $400,000 in the Pittsburgh area to promote Bradenton as a tourist destination.

The new “fan friendly” improvements will increase capacity, provide new seats and add a boardwalk area in the outfield.

The project is slated to start after the Pirates’ spring training this year and will continue around the Marauders’ schedule. Improvements could be completed prior to next year’s spring training season, Callahan said.

These will be the second wave of improvements to the field since it was built in 1923. Named after the late Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie, the field underwent renovations in the early 1990s that included new wide access ramps and concession stands.

Fred Andrews, former president of the Bradenton Boosters, a volunteer club that serves at McKechnie Field, welcomes the proposed improvements.

The Holmes Beach resident currently serves as an usher for the Pirates and Marauders and has been affiliated with the Pirates organization since 1994.

“I think it’s a great idea for the community,” said Andrews, 81. “All fields need improvements, just like a house.”

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