Renovations to Pirates’ homes likely long shot

BRADENTON — The Pittsburgh Pirates arrived in Bradenton last spring to more than $15 million in upgrades at its facilities.

Now, Pirates officials and the city of Bradenton are looking at the next multimillion project.

That includes about $4 million in renovations for McKechnie Field that would include additional seating, extended awnings, a left-field party deck, an interactive video scoreboard and more fan plazas.

However, city and Pirates officials aren’t expecting the project to move forward anytime soon due to funding limitations.

A $15 million grant awarded to the city in 2006 from the Florida Sports Foundation as part of a spring training retention fund has already been spent.

That money went toward upgrades at Pirate City, the team’s training facilities, offices and dormitories. The $18 million project, which the Pirates also helped fund, included installing field lights at McKechnie.

That leaves tourism tax dollars, a slim portion of which are allocated to the Pirates, as the main funding source for now.

Next month, Manatee County’s tourism board will meet to discuss raising the 4-cent bed tax, which the county collects on every dollar spent at hotels and rental units.

Carl Callahan, city clerk and treasurer for Bradenton, presented proposed renovations for McKechnie Field to tourism officials at a November meeting in hopes that money from a fifth cent could be allocated to the project.

“Without something like that, the likelihood of this moving forward is minimal,” Callahan said.

The city of Bradenton’s budget does not allow room for allocating any additional funds to the Pirates at this time after seeing $1.14 million in property tax revenue loss from Amendment 1.

“It wouldn’t be competing from our budget,” Callahan said.

Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a tourism tax hike is needed, but it is unlikely money from a fifth cent would be allocated to the Pirates.

Each cent generates about $1.2 million a year in tax revenues.

“It will be just to bail out the (Manatee) Civic Center and try to balance our marketing program,” White said.

During November’s discussion on the bed-tax allocation, White and a majority of tourism officials agreed more money was needed to support the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s marketing plan.

Without allocating the fifth cent to marketing and advertising, White said the visitors bureau would have to dip into reserves next year and would face a deficit by 2010. The visitors bureau is projecting to spend $2.3 million on marketing and advertising in 2009, of the $5.4 million raised in tourism tax.

The city of Bradenton and Pirates facilities are to receive $284,961.

Nick Gandy, spokesman for the Florida Sports Foundation, said investing money at spring training facilities is important because it helps retain Major League Baseball teams in their host cities, which benefit from the economic impact.

Spring training’s economic impact on the state is an estimated $490 million, an average of $24 million for each community that hosts a team, according to the most recent financial study commissioned by the Florida Sports Foundation in 2000.

While the Pirates won’t be going anywhere anytime soon after signing a 30-year lease with Bradenton in 2007, Gandy said cities and MLB teams want to keep a good relationship to prevent teams from leaving Florida as the Cincinnati Reds have decided to leave Sarasota.

“Whatever improvements a community makes to the stadium and facility will only help in working together with that team to keep them in Florida,” Gandy said.