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$1 million of public money for new scoreboard at McKechnie Field?

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council has recommended spending up to $1 million to help the Pittsburgh Pirates buy a new video board that will, if approved by the Manatee County commission, replace the current scoreboard.

The Pirates’ Senior Director of Florida Operations Trevor Gooby said it’s time to invest in a replacement for the current scoreboard.

“It has no video capabilities,” Gooby said. “And it has a small message board that is out of date. If it does break or have problems with lights, parts are not available for it anymore. So we’re having some challenges with that.” Gooby said he and his team are still working through concepts and ideas for the new videoboard and “don’t want to get ahead of themselves” before the county commission votes on the recommendation July 26.

Executive Director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Elliott Falcione said if the funding is approved, the Pirates will purchase the video board and seek reimbursement.

The $1 million recommendation comes after several other local and state government investments were made into keeping Major League Baseball in Bradenton. Before the 2008 season began, the Pirates signed a 30-year lease with the City of Bradenton and completed a $20 million renovation that added lights and a new visitors’ clubhouse, as well as improvements to Pirate City.

“About $9 million was covered by a state-funded program designed to keep teams that currently hold spring training in Florida from leaving for Arizona,” according to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ mlb.com page on McKechnie Field.

A $10 million renovation of McKechnie Field, completed in spring 2013, was partially funded by tourist taxes. In a 20-year interlocal agreement between Manatee County and the City of Bradenton, tourist development taxes will help pay for $7.5 million of the renovation through up to $400,000 in yearly installments. The Pittsburgh Pirates funded the rest of the renovation, which included the boardwalk and additional seating. The field’s capacity went from 6,500 to 9,000 seats after the renovation.

In return, the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to provide $400,000 per year for 20 years of brand awareness and advertising for the Bradenton area in Pittsburgh. The renovation of McKechnie Field was also meant to open up possibilities for hosting other baseball and non-baseball events year-round, including high school and college tournaments, concerts, weddings and other community events.

Gooby’s team is still working on making the stadium a 365-day venue, as the renovation also allowed for the minor league Bradenton Marauders to play at McKechnie.

“It's something we are continuing to look at with events,” Gooby said. “The challenge is baseball is our main focus at the stadium, and there are certain dates we just can’t do activities on the field. We’re looking to do more events in the off-season, which is fall into spring training.”

When the Pirates negotiated the renovation deal with Manatee County, Falcione said tourist tax revenues weren’t high enough to support the entire project.

“The tourism tax revenues weren't at the growth level that they are today,” Falcione said. “So the Pirates, when they were planning on renovating McKechnie, there were many different additional renovation components they wanted to do and we couldn't commit all of the money for that.” Now enough tourist taxes are coming in to support the video board, he said.

“And they’ve put more than $12 million into the city since that was executed,” Falcione said. He estimated a $36 million economic impact on the Bradenton area from spring training last year, and hopes to see the video board add to the impact.

“They will give us brand awareness at every spring training game on the video board, and our logo will be behind home plate that will be seen sometimes nationally when games are televised at McKechnie Field,” Falcione said.

The City of Bradenton made a $275,000 investment in 2014 into the partnership with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The money paid for replacing the existing clubhouse and expanding the agility field at McKechnie Field, and building a new strength facility at Pirate City, the Herald has reported.

This year, the state budget contains a promise for $750,000 in improvement money for Pirate City out of the State Economic Enhancement & Development Trust Fund.

And though the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has spent money advertising in Pittsburgh through other avenues, including the much-contested rally towels handed out at a Pittsburgh Penguins game this year, Falcione said the bureau continues to spend in Pittsburgh because they’ve seen a 37 percent increase in visitation from Pittsburgh year-over-year.

“We’re getting a stronger ROI (return on investment) than normal than from other feeder markets,” he said. “You always reinvest in your success.”

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday

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